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Defense lawyer questions Broward sheriff's `hate crime' comment in Craig Cohen case

BY DAVID OVALLE, dovalle@MiamiHerald.com


One day after Broward's top cop suggested the fatal beating of a Wilton Manors man is being investigated as a hate crime, the lawyer for one suspect stressed that the department's own detectives determined otherwise.

``It just doesn't jive with their own investigation,'' defense lawyer Sebastian Balliro said Friday, one day after Sheriff Al Lamberti told a vigil that ``we'll work it as a hate crime until proven otherwise.''

Balliro represents Victor Gonzalez, 21, who is charged with attempted murder in the April 6 beating of Craig Cohen outside the Peter Pan diner in Oakland Park.

A grand jury has now been formed to decide whether the men will be indicted for first-degree murder.

Gonzalez and the other suspect, Pargu Leandro, 25, have pleaded not guilty. A third man is also facing charges.

Cohen, who was gay, died in a hospice after six months in a coma. After his death, BSO's hate crimes unit said the attack was the work of drunk and high robbers looking for easy prey, not targeting gay men because of their sexuality.

At a vigil Thursday night, surrounded by gay rights activists, Lamberti said the attack would be investigated as a hate crime but the final determination on charges would be up to the state attorney's office.

``It's disturbing when you consider that it's in direct contradiction to their own investigative findings,'' Balliro said of Lamberti's remarks.

BSO spokeswoman Dani Moschella spokeswoman clarified on Friday that although the attack was initially investigated as a hate crime, ``right now we don't have evidence to definitely say this is a hate crime.''

``If we develop information, we will confer with the state attorney,'' Moschella said.


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