A True Crime Story Of Murder And Redemption

I have always been a fan of true life crime stories, in my mind fact is usually stranger than fiction. I have read a number of books on court cases and I am always enthralled by the way the case unfolds as the prosecution and defense parry and thrust for control. I am also appalled at direction some cases find themselves heading in, a case in point would be the original OJ Simpson murder trial.

John Contini is a very well known and well respected trial layer in Florida. If I was accused of doing something bad he is the guy I would want on my side. Danger Road takes us inside a famous case that he was involved in, he defended Gilbert Fernandez who was accused of being the trigger man in the execution style murders of three drug dealers. Gil was an ex cop, and an avid body builder, in fact he was the winner of the Mr. Florida title. The case was a curious one, the murders took place in 1983, yet it was not until 1991 that Gil Fernandez was brought to trial. Even stranger the prosecution was seeking the death penalty, yet their case rested largely on witnesses who had been granted immunity, making the value of their statements somewhat questionable. There were also some glaring discrepancies in the witness accounts.

Gil was behind the eight ball all the way, there was a good deal of circumstantial evidence that he knew all of the wrong people, and was involved in all the wrong things! The gym that he owned was a hangout for some known mob enforcers, debt collectors with baseball bats or worse. There were also connections to the drug industry.

John Contini removes the veil and for the first time takes us behind the scenes of this very high profile case. Two men were accused of the crime Gilbert Fernandez and Bert Christie, both had ‘reputations’, and both were hung drawn and quartered in the court of public opinion, long before the trial even began.

Gil had been spit roasted by the press. John Contini tried to stop it, but to no avail. This quote sums it up far better than I could ever do:

We soon learned an unfortunate truth. When you attempt to gag the press, the media circus only gets exponentially worse.

Oh how true. The press is often the thirteenth juror, it may not be right, but it is the way life is.

The trial opened and progressed pretty much as John Contini had predicted, the bench beat on the defense at every opportunity,  John recognizes that some of the beatings were deserved, yet equal punishment was not meted out to the prosecution, who also played on some very thin ice.

Although the defense team thought they had provided enough ammunition to show reasonable doubt, the jury elected for a guilty plea. Both men receiving 25 years in jail for each of the three murders.

This trial happened almost 20 years ago, could it, and would it, be possible that this trial could happen today? A part of me says no, yet another part of me says, absolutely. The news industry is a lot different today, I suspect that some of the court room decisions would not have been made with the press magnifying glass scrutinizing every move.

One of the most interesting parts of the book is the final section, some 15 years after the events John Contini sought out the major, and also some of the minor players to ask them for their recollections of the case. This was a most revealing glimpse into the dynamics behind a court case. There were many misconceptions of the events.

This is a well constructed book, I can honestly say that I have nothing but praise for it. At 250 pages it is short enough to be concise, yet long enough to convey the whole story. Gil has tried appealing his sentence a total of 7 times. There seems little hope for his success. Is he guilty or innocent? That question we may never know for certain. Did the justice system work or fail for Gilbert Fernandez Jr? I will leave that up to the reader to decide.

You can purchase your copy from Amazon by clicking on the icon above. John Contini also has a web site with information about the book.

Simon Barrett

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