A Hispanic Immokalee farm worker charged with stabbing a teenage farm worker to death early Saturday after an argument over speaking English was advised of his rights Sunday at his first appearance hearing.
Mauricio Escalante, 33, who has no permanent address, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, not premeditated, at his hearing before Circuit Judge Christine Greider, a Hendry Circuit judge who set bond at $500,000.
Escalante, who will be arraigned Jan. 11, faces life in prison on the first-degree felony charge involving the death of 17-year-old Charlie Guzman. No further information was immediately available about Guzman, a juvenile.
Collier County Sheriff's reports say Escalante blurted out that he had been defending himself. Under the U.S. Constitution, spontaneous statements blurted out before suspects are advised of their Miranda Rights, including the right to remain silent, are admissible at trial.
But local defense attorney Lee Hollander, who is not Escalante's attorney but has defended suspects in murder cases, said the prosecution doesn't have to use the statement at trial.
"And the defense may or may not be able to get it in because it's exculpatory, not incriminatory," Hollander said, referring to an admission favorable to a defendant that helps clear him of guilt. "Self-defense is a defense to the crime."
Sheriff's reports provide this account:
Between 3 a.m. and 3:34 a.m., the victim and his friends gathered at a laundry area at the farmworker tenant apartments on Colorado Avenue. There already were three others there and the two groups began talking until a dispute erupted involving the victim's group speaking English, not Spanish.
The argument turned physical when an unidentified man and one of the victim's friends began a fist fight. Escalante was identified by witnesses as being one of the three men originally in the laundry area.
When the fight began, he fled to an apartment about 100 feet away and ran back with a 8-inch long weapon with a brown or yellow handle. He ran toward the victim and began fighting, hitting him in the stomach.
"(The victim) screamed as if he had been severely injured and then retaliated by striking Mr. Escalante with his fist several times," the report by Investigator William Still says. "The men fell to the ground and (the victim) landed on top of Mr. Escalante."
The others separated the men and scattered in opposite directions. The victim walked a short distance before collapsing of injuries from at least three stab wounds to his right chest, right lower abdomen, and left groin area.
A Collier Emergency Medical Services ambulance rushed him to NCH North Naples Hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Deputies responding to the crime scene were told Escalante was the attacker and they found him sitting on a door step of a tenant room. When approached by a deputy, he blurted out that he had been defending himself. The deputy then advised him of his Miranda Rights and Escalante invoked his right to remain silent, refusing to talk further.
Witnesses identified Escalante when Still showed them a six-photo lineup. They also told Still no one else had physical contact with the victim during the fight.
Escalante provided four different names to detectives before he was identified through fingerprints at the jail.
Collier and Lee county court records show no prior arrests, but a jail official said Sunday that he had been in the jail on Dec. 21, 2008, to sober up after he was held under the Marchman Act. The 1993 state law involves people under the influence of drugs or alcohol being held to sober up because they're a danger to themselves or others.
CBS WINK News