At about 9 p.m. on March 2, 2000, Mary Beth Wolter, riding behind her husband, Robert Dziadik, on his motorcycle, was shot in the hip by the driver of a car in what law enforcement authorities said was the first case of road rage in Palm Beach County, Florida.
The couple told police they left a tavern about 9 p.m. with three other friends—three motorcycles in all. While driving on a six-lane highway, a tan car swerved in front of them. At the next stoplight, the driver and the motorcyclists exchanged shouts and curses and the car sped away.
Words were exchanged again at the next stoplight and the motorcyclists sped off when the light changed. But Dziadik said the car pulled up next to him and a shot was fired, severely wounding the 32-year-old Wolter.
Dziadik went to the hospital with Wolter. Police later said that when they arrived at the scene, the three other cyclists were so intoxicated they would not have recognized the President of the United States if he were standing in front of them.
Dziadik described the gunman as Hispanic with short hair and a pencil-thin mustache.
There were no leads. Not long after, Wolter identified a man she saw on television as the gunman, but an investigation showed she was incorrect.
In May 2000, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office passed an anonymous tip to their Crime Stoppers telephone line to a private investigator hired by Dziadik. In December, the investigator matched a photograph of Vishnu Persad to a composite sketch based on Dziadik’s description.
The photograph depicted Persad when he was 17 years old—nearly seven years earlier. Now, at age 23, Persad was a medical student at Florida Atlantic University.
The investigator put the photo in a photographic lineup and showed it to Dziadik, Wolter and their three friends. Only Dziadik identified Persad.
The investigator took his information the sheriff’s office and on December 7, 2000, Persad, 23, was arrested. Dziadik identified him in a live lineup and Persad was charged with aggravated battery.
Persad, a native of Trinidad and Tobago, had been arrested before. He had pleaded guilty to auto theft and felony shoplifting, and adjudication had been withheld. He had been arrested in 1997 on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon, but the charge was dropped.
He went on trial in October 2001. The only evidence against him was Dziadik’s in-court identification.
Persad testified in his own defense and told the jury he was studying for an organic chemistry test at the library at Florida Atlantic on the night of the shooting.
Three students testified he was with them in the library and all testified that Persad had long hair and a beard and drove a green car adorned with stickers and Chinese characters.
After three days of trial, the jury convicted Persad on October 31, 2001 and he was sentenced to 43 years in prison.
Persad hired new attorneys who sought a new trial, alleging that his trial lawyer had provided inadequate legal assistance.
On April 11, 2006, the motion was granted and the conviction was vacated. The judge found that Persad’s case was the first felony criminal trial the lawyer had handled.
The judge ruled that the lawyer had failed to uncover evidence that Dziadik knew ahead of time that Persad’s photo would be in the lineup. The lawyer had failed to elicit evidence that the private investigator stood to obtain a $10,000 reward if Persad was convicted and that Dziadik, Wolter, and their friends had been drinking prior to the incident.
On February 28, 2007, the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge.
– Maurice Possley