Palm Beach Post

Charge in road shooting dropped

By Susan Spencer Wendel
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 01, 2007
UPDATED: 2:50 p.m. March 03, 2007

WEST PALM BEACH — Prosecutors on Wednesday dropped the charge against a Riviera Beach man who once faced 43 years in prison for a road-rage shooting he says he did not commit.

Vishnu Persad, saying he wanted to give credit where due, hugs his attorney, Mitchell Beers, after learning the charge against him has been dropped.
Since late 2000, Vishnu Persad lived under the yoke of the charge that he shot Mary Beth Wolter on a dark road after arguing with her husband. It was one of the most controversial criminal cases in recent memory: one eyewitness, a 90-second look at a stranger before the stranger fired. No physical evidence.

Persad's case wended in and out of courts for years. A month ago, Circuit Judge Jorge Labarga threw out the ID, the keystone of the case. On Wednesday, prosecutors wiped Persad's slate clean.

"It is freedom all over again, like a rebirth," said Persad, 30, a former pre-med student. "Now I can move on with life."

Prosecutors dropped the charge against Persad essentially because there was nothing left to appeal, according to the paperwork filed by Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts.

Labarga's order fastidiously detailed suggestive procedures used by police and conflicts in testimony and evidence, concluding that there was a substantial likelihood Persad had been misidentified.

"The law was applied correctly by him (Labarga) and there was nothing to appeal," McRoberts said. "The facts are the facts."
The victim's then-husband, biker Robert Dziadik, made the ID. He picked Persad out of a photo lineup six months after the shooting.

Other eyewitnesses who had glimpsed the driver did not.

Persad said he was miles away, in an organic chemistry study group at Florida Atlantic University.

Dziadik has said he's 100 percent confident that Persad was the shooter that night and has never wavered over the years. As the case against Persad fell apart the past few months, Dziadik grew angrier and more threatening.

"If Vishnu Persad thinks this is over, he's crazy," Dziadik told The Palm Beach Post last month. "Every time he walks out the door, he better be ready. He did it, and he's going to pay for it. And yeah, I believe in street justice. Justice one way or another."

Dziadik, who works for a federal law enforcement agency, did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

His former wife, Wolter, was on the back of his Harley the night of the shooting. The bullet blasted through her abdomen, leaving her unable to bear children. She has had 14 or 15 surgeries to repair related damage, her sister said Wednesday.
Now Wolter, 39, is even more devastated by the news Persad will go free.

"She does not deserve this," said Mindi Devereaux. "Everybody's been so for him (Persad) and not for her. I think she suffered a hell of a lot more than he did."

Persad was convicted of the shooting and spent two years in prison and years on house arrest, unable to leave his home except for court or to visit his attorney.

Last year, he won the right to a new trial.

Students and FAU faculty members have said Persad, who is of Indian descent, had long hair at the time - and looked nothing like the vague description of the shooter given that night: Hispanic with short hair.

An anonymous call to Crime Stoppers landed Persad in a photo lineup six months after the shooting. In the lineup was a picture of Persad with short hair, taken four years earlier.

Eyewitness identification experts have questioned the use of such an old photo, as well as the composition of the photo lineup. It included men who looked black, Asian and Hispanic. Persad's picture among them had a distinctly lighter background.

Controversy over eyewitness IDs has grown as DNA evidence has exonerated more and more people convicted by eyewitness accounts.

The Justice Department made specific recommendations in 1999 for improving reliability. Procedures not followed in Persad's case were highlighted in a Palm BeachPost story last year.

Truth in Justice
Eyewitness Identification