Lawyer for Canadian diplomat’s son says apparent murder confession is ‘suspicious’

Marc Wabafiyebazu, 15, of Ottawa, is seen in court during his bail hearing in Miami on Friday, May 29, 2015.
Marc Wabafiyebazu, 15, of Ottawa, is seen in court during his bail hearing in Miami on Friday, May 29, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel

The police account of a confession the son of a Canadian diplomat apparently gave in a double killing in Florida makes little sense, his lawyer argues in a new bid to win the teen’s pretrial release.

Even if Marc Wabafiyebazu did talk about the crime, Miami police failed to inform him of his rights – meaning they obtained the alleged statements illegally, the lawyer says.

“The court’s heavy reliance on the improper confession is misplaced,” Michael Corey states in a petition to the District Court of Appeal.

“The statements…are almost uniformly contradicted by the undisputed physical evidence and witness statements.”

Wabafiyebazu, 15, of Ottawa, is charged as an adult with felony murder in the shooting deaths of his 18-year-old brother Jean and another teenager. Police allege the gunfire erupted inside a Miami-area apartment on March 30 when the older sibling tried to rob a drug dealer.

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Initially, a senior detective charged him with minor offences but changed that to murder after his apparent confession to Juan Velez, a rookie officer, who was driving him to a detention centre.

By the officer’s own account, the distraught teen, who had just heard his brother was dead, offered 23 pieces of information in under two minutes – something the lawyer calls “suspicious and implausible.”

Among other things, Velez said Wabafiyebazu told him that he and his brother had ripped off other drug dealers in Canada and Miami. He also apparently claimed to have shot at the fleeing drug dealer – which video shows did not occur.

“According to Velez, the entire ‘confession’ was allegedly given to him while he was driving his patrol car, with Marc sitting in the back seat behind a safety barrier, and with the police radio squawking on and off intermittently,” Corey states.

“Officer Velez made no attempt to record this alleged confession or reduce it to writing.”

Instead, the officer dropped the teen at a detention centre, then returned to the detachment where he told a detective about the alleged statements.

In denying him bail in June, Circuit Judge Teresa Pooler said she believed Velez.

“Officer Velez, and this is based on his demeanour in this court, was not the type of officer who would be fabricating the statements from the defendant to get himself involved in a big case,” Pooler said.

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In his filings, Corey lays out what happened after they arrested Wabafiyebazu outside the apartment, where he was waiting for them to arrive.

Police handcuffed him to a chair in an interrogation room for seven or eight hours. A senior detective violated department policy by failing to turn on a video camera. Officers then cuffed him to a bench in another section for two more hours. They never offered him a bathroom break.

Also in violation of policy, officers refused to let him call his diplomat mother, Roxanne Dube, nor did they make reasonable efforts to contact her.

In response to Corey’s petition filed Friday, the Appeal Court asked Florida’s attorney general to respond by end of day Thursday – an unusually tight deadline.

Dube, who stepped down as consul general to Miami last week but remains a Foreign Affairs employee, said she was encouraged the court was paying “direct and pressing attention” to her son’s case.

“I am so full of hope, again,” Dube told The Canadian Press on Tuesday.

The felony murder with which Wabafiyebazu is charged rests on his being an active accomplice to the attempted armed robbery of the drug dealer. However, surveillance video shows he was waiting in the passenger seat of his mother’s black BMW when the shots rang out. Police do not allege he shot at, or threatened, anyone but say he was acting as a lookout.

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The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office referred a request for comment to the state’s attorney general, whose office said it would be inappropriate to discuss the case. It’s not clear when the Appeal Court might hear the bail petition or make a ruling.

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