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It’s one of South Florida’s most notorious criminal cases of the past 15 years — the 2007 Three Amigos convenience store robbery and killing of a retired kosher baker.
Now one of the assailants, who went to trial a staggering four times, claims the entire prosecution was unnecessary because he got lousy legal advice from the beginning.
Victor Salastier Diaz does not deny that he and six other Miami men carried out the armed robbery, which led to a car chase and an errant bullet hitting Samuel Salomon, 70, as he and his wife drove home from a Hanukkah shopping trip in West Delray.
But Diaz, serving life in prison, claims for the first time that he had a plea offer for a 30-year sentence and chose not to take it. Why not? He says his lawyers from the Public Defender’s Office never explained that a first-degree murder conviction brings a mandatory term of life in prison.
Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss agrees Diaz, 32, could have a valid point. On Thursday she said she will take a closer look at a hearing set for Oct. 26, before deciding whether the felon is entitled to yet another trial or a different punishment.
But not everyone is buying the argument of a criminal involved in the death of an innocent man in front of his wife’s eyes.
The State Attorney’s Office blasted Diaz’s recent claim as “inherently incredible” and not worthy of any further discussion. Public Defender Carey Haughwout, who represented Diaz before his first trial in 2010, could not be reached for comment despite a call to her cellphone.
Edward Salomon, one of the victim’s four sons, told the South Florida Sun Sentinel that he had never heard of a plea offer for Diaz before and his family never would have approved of one.
“If it was suggested to me, I would say absolutely not,” he said, urging Circuit Judge Daliah Weiss to deny the bid for the conviction to be thrown out.
Salomon, who attended over a decade of hearings and trials for all seven accomplices, said, “I would be totally baffled if the judge grants this.”
Diaz is not backtracking from his confession to the crimes. But he says he shouldn’t die in prison because he would have taken the plea offer before his first trial in 2010 had he known better.
Diaz blamed his youthful ignorance, and a desire for money to pay for a car, as the reasons he chose at age 18 to run with a band of thieves.
“The defendant was ashamed for what he did, but he was young and immature at the time,” wrote his attorney, Rachael E. Reese of Tampa.
A police presence there forced a change of plans to hit the Three Amigos check-cashing and convenience store west of Boynton Beach.
Despite the scheming to pull off a clean hit, things went horribly wrong on Nov. 30, 2007.
Diaz was one of four robbers to storm the place around 1 p.m. A fifth man waited outside, while two others were not at the scene.
Diaz, clutching a 9mm semi-automatic firearm, restrained customers with zip ties.
While the robbers emptied the cash registers of $58,000, one of the patrons bolted out the door and the gang then decided to flee in their waiting Dodge Magnum.
But they never expected store manager Sian Kiat “Sam” Koh, moments after having a gun pointed in his face, to hop into his Mercedes and follow the bandits.
Koh, while speaking to a 911 operator, trailed the Dodge down Florida’s Turnpike and off the West Atlantic Avenue exit. Diaz and Koh have testified the cars raced at speeds up to 100 mph during the chase.
In his last trial in 2016, Diaz testified that near the end of Koh’s pursuit, one of the other robbers raised his gun and fired out the window at Koh’s car.
‘A completely innocent man’
At the same time, Samuel and Yvonne Salomon, married 49 years with grandchildren, were sitting in their Ford Windstar at a traffic light on West Atlantic.
What sounded like a rock hit their driver’s side window.
“The window just exploded,” Yvonne testified.
Shot once in the chest, Samuel managed to put the minivan in neutral before losing consciousness.
“He just passed out,” Yvonne said. “I didn’t know that he died.”
The son of Polish Holocaust survivors, Salomon spent much of his life in the kosher bakery business, first in Brooklyn and later in Boca Raton.
“Samuel Salomon was a completely innocent man … and he’s dead because seven men were greedy,” a prosecutor told Diaz’s jury.
Investigators ultimately caught up to each of them, though ringleader Andino escaped to Spain and wasn’t apprehended until eight years after the shooting. He was convicted and sentenced to life.
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Diaz was caught hiding in a trash bin off the Glades Road exit of the turnpike, not long after the robbers abandoned the Dodge in West Boca.
Since Diaz was convicted of murder in a fourth trial in 2016, he got a new lawyer and brought forward nine claims for “postconviction relief,” all based on claims that his trial lawyers botched his defense.
On July 15, Judge Weiss denied them all, except for the dispute over the alleged plea deal. She found “a hearing is necessary to determine the validity of the defendant’s claim.”
Diaz’s attorney explained that before the first trial a prosecutor offered a 30-year sentence in exchange for a guilty plea. The defense lawyer urged Diaz to take the deal but never explained the risks of a possible life sentence if Diaz declined — which he did, according to the claim.
In response, Assistant State Attorney Laura Fisher argued Diaz has no proof of any of this, and “fails to demonstrate that counsel misadvised him during plea negotiations.”