It’s difficult to believe a man could be shot in front of multiple witnesses in the middle of the street – along the main drag in Vero’s Old Downtown – without the thug who pulled the trigger being positively identified.
It’s even more difficult to comprehend why the victim, shot repeatedly at close range by a man standing in front of him, would not have the image of the gunman’s face embedded in his memory.
But, according to police and prosecutors, that’s exactly what happened in the aftermath of the shocking incident that occurred in the wee hours of March 31, outside The Grove bar on 14th Avenue.
That’s why, seven months later, no one has been arrested for shooting Andy Capak, one of The Grove’s co-owners, during an altercation that began inside the bar and spilled out onto the street, where the shots were fired.
That’s also why, despite police being confident they’ve had the right suspect all along, it’s now unlikely anyone ever will be charged in connection with the crime.
“I won’t say it will never be solved,” Assistant State Attorney Bill Long said last week after reviewing and then denying the Vero Beach Police Department’s request for an arrest warrant for a suspect detectives wanted to charge with attempted murder. “Evidence could come forward that can provide a new lead.”
Even though his detectives failed to get a warrant after months of investigation, Vero Beach Police Chief David Currey said the case remains open, though not active.
“There’s still hope, but unless we get something stronger – someone comes forward, we find new physical evidence, we get a confession – there’s nowhere else to go right now,” Currey said. “We believe we know who did this, but we need more [proof].”
That’s essentially what Long wrote in his four-page letter to police last Thursday, telling them their case was “lacking the requisite probable cause” to establish that the suspect, who remains unnamed, committed the crime.
Long detailed a litany of problems with the information gathered from Capak and the other seven witnesses, citing conflicts in their statements, mistaken identification and the failure of most of them to select the suspect from a photographic lineup.
“The totality of their statements conflicted substantially with each other,” Long wrote, “as well as with statements from the victim.”
– Three bar patrons initially told police the shooter was an “African-American man with dreadlocks,” but two others identified an “African-American male with short hair.”
– One on the witnesses who accused the man with dreadlocks said, “That’s the guy who shot the gun, because I’m like 100 percent. I would swear on my dad’s grave. That’s the guy who shot the gun,” but the witness later recanted and was unable to identify the suspect in a photo lineup.
– Another witness who claimed to have seen the shooter “clear as day” also was unable to identify the suspect in a photo lineup.
– A third witness said two of the African-American men at the scene had guns, including one who “discharged a firearm,” but that witness, like the others, couldn’t pick the shooter from the lineup.
– Two witnesses who did identify the police’s main suspect in the photo lineup both said the man had short hair, which conflicted with the statements of others.
There were also discrepancies in the witnesses’ descriptions of the shooter’s shirt.
“In this matter,” Long wrote in his letter, “the state cannot ignore the fact that the incident occurred at a bar, where a majority of the witnesses who reported their respective observations had been consuming alcohol prior to the event.”
The shooting also occurred shortly before 2 a.m.
As for Capak, who suffered life-threatening injuries after being shot at least three times, he told detectives he wasn’t sure what he saw – another significant blow to their case.
Detectives interviewed Capak, who was 31 at the time of the shooting, on multiple occasions, the most comprehensive session coming 18 days after the incident.
During that interview, Capak recalled being about 20 feet from the shooter when he was struck by the first shot. He said he was 10 to 15 feet away when the second and third shots hit him.
Capak told detectives he was engaged in the brawl outside the bar and “remembered punching an individual with dreadlocks.” He said he was “actively approaching the shooter” when the shots were fired.
Capak told detectives he saw the shooter and saw the gun discharge multiple times, but he said he “would not be comfortable making an in-court identification,” Long wrote.
In his letter, Long stated that when asked to describe the shooter, Capak replied: “It’s like I keep seeing the guy, but then it’s hard for me … The face keeps changing.”
The victim then added: “It was either the clean-cut guy or the Hispanic guy, ’cause I know it wasn’t the guy with the dreads.”
Pressed for more details, Capak said, “It could have been a totally different person that wasn’t even in the bar. … I’m just going based on the fact that, you know, those three were hanging out together.”
Long wrote that Capak’s recollection of the incident could be impaired by the traumatic injuries he sustained in the shooting. He referred back to the detectives’ interview with the victim.
“Honestly, the further we get away from the incident, the harder it is for me to separate what I’m fabricating in my mind and what actually, you know, took place,” Capak was quoted as telling detectives.
“You know, I’m upset about the situation, but catching the guy hasn’t been the first thing on my mind,” he added. “It’s been about my recovery and stuff.”
Long wrote that it’s unfair to blame Capak for his failure to remember specific details about the shooting, given the trauma he endured, but he added that the state must consider “the absence of those details” in determining whether probable cause exists.
Thus, Long determined that there are too many conflicting accounts – too much uncertainty, too little incontrovertible evidence – to file an attempted murder charge that wouldn’t stand up in court.
“After what appears to be a thorough investigation by the Vero Beach Police Department, the facts are what they are,” Long wrote in his closing paragraph. “Ultimately, those facts implicate multiple potential suspects …
“While it is certainly possible the defendant is the individual who shot the victim, there is not sufficient probable cause to establish that he committed the crime as alleged.”
So the case remains unsolved, the suspect remains a free man and none of that is likely to change anytime soon – unless or until something dramatic occurs.
The best chance for justice? It’s always possible one of the shooter’s wing men will fly afoul of the law and, facing time behind bars, be willing to trade a friend for a favor.
“Right now, we’ve exhausted all of our leads, which is why we presented out case to the State Attorney’s Office,” Currey said. “This has been frustrating for us. We want to get the guy who did it. But all we can do is give it our best, which we did.
“We’re not giving up,” he added. “We’ll keep the case open. You never know what’s going to happen.”
Certainly, no one expected this.
A man got shot multiple times in front of witnesses on the street in downtown Vero Beach, and there’s not enough evidence to put the thug who pulled the trigger in prison?
That’s hard to imagine.