By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org
Dozens of pages of newly released Philadelphia police records about the 1993 murder arrest of Gregory Scott Tony are casting fresh doubt on the Broward sheriff’s claim that he fired in “self-defense,” as a 14-year-old, when he shot and killed 18-year-old Hector “Chino” Rodriguez.
Tony was acquitted of Rodriguez’s May 3 murder and several related gun charges on Dec. 15, 1993, but all juvenile court records about the case have not been found and have apparently been destroyed.
However, Florida Bulldog has learned that witnesses who didn’t show up to testify at Tony’s trial figured into the acquittal decision.
Until now, the only versions of what happened were a brief summary of events written by homicide detectives – and obtained by Florida Bulldog in April 2020 – and Tony’s account.
The Pennsylvania records were obtained by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and provided to Florida’s Commission on Ethics when the FDLE referred the case it had built against Tony for the commission’s consideration. They were included in a document dump by the ethics commission after announcing on Wednesday that probable cause was found to believe Tony had repeatedly misused his position by providing false or misleading information about himself to authorities – most notably when he failed to inform Gov. Ron DeSantis that he’d once been arrested for murder before DeSantis appointed him to serve as Broward’s sheriff. Many of the Philadelphia police records can be viewed here.
A PHILADELPHIA STORY
According to four Philadelphia police arrest affidavits, a trio of young witnesses told detectives they saw Tony arguing with Rodriguez outside Tony’s home at 2828 N. Hutchinson St. Each said Tony abruptly ran inside and came out quickly carrying a gun.
David Serrano, a 17-year-old junior at Mastbaum High School, and Jonathan Berberna, 13, were eyewitnesses to the 3:45 p.m. murder.
Both stated they watched Tony shoot Rodriguez dead in the street. Jonathan’s brother, 11-year-old Joel Berberna, told detectives he ran away after seeing Tony walk up to Rodriguez and point a gun at him, but heard the gunshots and returned later to see Rodriguez dead in the street.
Serrano said in a statement that he’d been hanging out with Tony’s older brother, “Wham,” and that they’d walked back to Tony’s Philadelphia row house where they watched Tony and Rodriguez arguing. They were sitting on the front steps of the residence next door.
“I think the argument started when some piper [crack] lady walked down the street and Hector had said to Greg, ‘There goes your mom.’ That’s what I heard it started over,” Serrano said.
Things quickly escalated. Serrano and Jonathan Berberna both told police that Tony, then an eighth-grader at a nearby bilingual middle school, challenged Rodriguez to fight. Rodriguez, who stood more than 5-feet-11 and weighed 262 pounds, refused to fight the much smaller Tony, who was then 5-feet-9 and 140 pounds.
TONY GOT HIS GUN
Rodriguez’s refusal prompted Tony to run inside his home and get a gun. He came out brandishing his father’s .32 chrome-plated, six-shot Rossi revolver.
“Serrano related that when Hector refused to fight Greg, Greg went into 2828 N. Hutchinson St. and exited a short time later with a gun. He related that Greg then shot the unarmed Rodriguez about six times and that Rodriguez collapsed in the street in front of that location with numerous gunshot wounds. Serrano related that Greg then fled on foot,” one arrest affidavit states.
Berberna “related that Greg fired six shots at Hector and that Hector fell down and that blood was coming from Hector’s mouth,’’ another arrest affidavit said.
“Everybody was like stunned by what had happened because they were friends,” said Serrano, who told detectives he watched as Tony put the handgun in his pocket before fleeing.
The Philadelphia police reports don’t mention any gun being found at the crime scene. It is not known if the gun Tony used to kill Rodriguez was ever found.
“Then I heard Greg’s father shouting his name and then Greg just started running down the street and across Somerset and he went up one of the little streets and me and Wham ran after him but we couldn’t find him,” Serrano said.
Asked by police, “In your mind was there any reason for Greg to shoot and kill Hector?” Serrano answered, “No.”
‘WHO DID IT. WHO DID IT!’
Rodriguez’s younger brother, Jose Lagares, told police he was at home nearby at the time. “I was in the house cooking and I heard about six gunshots. They sounded real close, like it was right outside,” Lagares, 15, said in a statement taken later that day. “My mother said, ‘GO SEE. GO CHECK!’ I went outside and saw people running towards Hutchinson St., and I followed them. Then, I seen my brother Hector laying on the sidewalk. He was bleeding from his nose, mouth and his neck. He was unconscious and I yelled, ‘WHO DID IT. WHO DID IT!’ Some light skinned dude in the crowd said, ‘GREGORY TONY DID IT!’ ”
“My step-father and me carried Hector to my mom’s van and then we drove him to the hospital,” Lagares said.
The Philadelphia police switchboard quickly lit up. Dispatch tapes and transcripts show that within two minutes 10 frantic callers reported the shooting, including the principal of nearby St. Bonaventure Parochial School. Within minutes, a police dispatcher put out over the air the name of the suspected killer: “Gregory Scott Tony.”
Police witness accounts dovetail with accounts of what happened provided to Florida Bulldog two years ago by Rodriguez’s mother, Norma Rodriguez, and his then-girlfriend, Maritza Carrasquillo. Both said Rodriguez and Tony were friends and that Rodriguez was unarmed.
Tony has stated repeatedly that he shot in self-defense because Rodriguez was armed and had threatened to kill him and his family.
Tony’s concerns were not unfounded. The new police records contain a juvenile rap sheet for Rodriguez that shows he was arrested on drug and weapons charges in 1991 and for aggravated assault and firearms charges in 1992. The outcomes of those charges were not listed.
“When I was 14 years old, growing up in a neighborhood in Philadelphia filled with violence and gang activity, I shot an armed man in self-defense. The juvenile authorities reviewed my actions and cleared my name,” Tony wrote in an email to Florida Bulldog shortly before the initial story about the matter was published on May 2, 2020.
“The press accounts at the time said we were friends, we were not. There are quotes from locals speculating on what may have happened. They were not there. They did not witness the terrified 14-year-old boy who thought his and his family’s life was in mortal danger try to protect that family.”
Later, in response to follow-up questions, Tony gave this account of the shooting, “The day of the incident, Hector, my brother and I were all in front of our house when we got into an argument. At one point, he pulled his gun threatening us, saying he didn’t have any issues with shooting us there. I remember how scared I was when he chased me and my brother into our house, I ran to grab my father’s gun and fired it before Hector was able to shoot his gun.”
A HOT HEAD WITH A SHORT FUSE
The newly released statements of eyewitnesses now paint a much different picture. No witness told police that Rodriguez pulled a gun, threatened anyone or chased Tony into his home where he grabbed a gun in desperation. Rather, the contemporaneous picture provided by witnesses is not of a terrified boy, but rather of a hot-headed young man with a short fuse, access to his father’s gun and a willingness to use it.
Police interviewed a number of police and civilian witnesses, including Tony’s father, William Scott, 63, with whom Tony lived. Scott stated he was inside his residence when he heard gunshots. People outside told him his son was involved in a fight with Rodriguez and had run away. Scott told police his handgun was missing.
“Scott voluntarily surrendered the empty gun box, numerous rounds of 32 cal. ammo and the sales receipt for the gun,” an affidavit says.
Rodriguez was pronounced dead at 4:01 p.m. at Episcopal Hospital “of multiple gunshot wounds to the head and body.” A police arrest report classified the crime as a “willful killing.”
An autopsy identified six bullet wounds in Rodriguez’s body, including two in the back of the head execution style. Rodriguez was also shot twice in the chest, once in the upper left side of the back and a “grazing” wound on the “mid upper back near the root of the neck.”
Five bullets were recovered and delivered to homicide, according to the report by Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Hydow Park. Toxicology tests showed no drugs or alcohol in Rodriguez’s body.
The four affidavits were soon used to arrest Tony on four counts: murder, possessing an instrument of crime, possession of an unlicensed firearm and carrying a firearm on a public street. The records show that police spelled Tony’s last name as Toney in charging documents, causing later confusion.
Each of the affidavits was signed by Philadelphia Homicide Detective Michael J. Gross and approved by Philadelphia Assistant District Attorney Arlene Fisk.
William Scott told a local reporter that he learned an hour after the shooting that his son was the killer and called an attorney while his son was on the run. Asked later that day if he knew his son’s whereabouts, William Scott said, “No, I don’t. But I spoke to an attorney and he told me something about turning Greg in tomorrow at 9 a.m.”
TONY HELD IN MAXIMUM SECURITY
Tony surrendered to police the following morning in the company of attorney Marc Neff. The same day the case was assigned to the Family Court Division, Juvenile Section. Tony was remanded to the maximum-security unit of the city’s juvenile jail, the Youth Study Center.
“Juvenile offenses in Pennsylvania are considered acts of delinquency rather than a crime,” says the Florida ethics commission’s report of investigation. As a result, the case of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Gregory Tony was by law veiled in absolute secrecy for the next 27 years.
With the release of the eyewitness accounts about how and why Tony chose to kill, along with news about the autopsy findings and the recovery of the five of the slugs from Rodriguez’s body, the evidence against Tony seems formidable.
So how was Tony found not guilty of killing Rodriguez? The lack of juvenile court records about the case appears to make the answer unknowable.
Two years ago, Rodriguez’s girlfriend, Maritza Carrasquillo, offered one possibility. She told Florida Bulldog that her family, including an eyewitness to the shooting, had called the District Attorney’s Office to make sure they knew the family wanted to testify at Tony’s juvenile court trial. She said they were told they’d get a call back when they were needed. A call never came.
Whether that potential testimony was significant enough to change the outcome can’t be known.
But there is an answer as to why Tony was acquitted. And it comes from the D.A.’s Office via an official source:
The witnesses who saw Tony shoot and kill Rodriguez, at least some of whom were Tony’s friends, didn’t show up in court to testify.