Simon could be freed shortly

Prosecutor vows charges, but pitcher might receive bail

February 23, 2011|By Nick Madigan and Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun

A Dominican prosecutor says he intends to pursue criminal charges against Orioles reliever Alfredo Simon, who has been in custody since Jan. 3 on suspicion of fatally shooting his cousin, although the pitcher could soon be granted conditional release from jail, according to a leading Santo Domingo daily, El Nacional.

Victor Mueses, the chief prosecutor in Puerto Plata, on the Dominican Republic's northern coast, told the newspaper that he would retain his right to charge Simon despite efforts by the baseball player's lawyers to head off any such prosecution by negotiating a monetary settlement with relatives of the two men shot in the incident, Michael Castillo Almonte, 25, who died, and his 17-year-old half brother, Starlin Castillo Hernandez, who was wounded in the right shoulder.

A senior editor at El Nacional said that a judge is to decide today whether to keep Simon in a Puerto Plata jail pending an investigation into the shooting or free him on bail. The judge could order him to make periodic visits to the prosecutor's office and might prevent him from leaving the country to continue his career with the Orioles. Simon has not been charged with a crime and is being held under so-called preventive detention. Dominican law stipulates that a suspect may be detained for up to a year without being charged.

The prosecutor said that whatever negotiations might be going on between Simon's representatives and the victims' families is entirely separate from the work of the prosecutor's office.

"We are unaware of the particulars of those negotiations," Mueses was quoted as saying.

The Orioles would not comment on the case.

The two men were shot in a park in Luperon, a resort town about an hour's drive from Puerto Plata, during a raucous end-of-year party that stretched into the early hours of Jan. 1. The younger man survived and identified Simon as the shooter. Simon was reported to have left the scene and was spotted later at a nightclub. Police issued a warrant for his arrest, and he surrendered to authorities in Puerto Plata on Jan. 3, accompanied by his mother and his attorney.

In text messages and conversations with The Baltimore Sun, one of Simon's agents, Phil Isaac, sounded certain that his client would be released today. Isaac said lawyers were seeking Simon's freedom because, they said, a ballistics test showed that the bullet that killed Castillo Almonte did not come from the gun Simon turned over to police. No independent confirmation from Dominican authorities could be obtained.

The prosecutor said Jan. 5 that the "trigger-happy" pitcher might have changed the barrel of the gun he turned over to authorities as a way of disguising his involvement in the shooting. If that were true, there would be no way of matching the weapon to the crime.

Mueses said a brawl between two people in the park had played a role in the shootings, which could lend credence to a report that Simon had fired his gun, ostensibly into the air, as a way of breaking up a fight.

The prosecutor also told reporters that Simon had previously been summoned and warned about firing his gun in public, a custom some people indulge in when celebrating milestones such as New Year's Eve. When asked why Simon's weapon had not been permanently confiscated before, Mueses said only that the warnings had evidently been insufficient.

Isaacs, the player's agent, said Monday that everyone involved was "finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel," but he declined to be specific about the particulars of Simon's possible release.

"I don't want to get into the details yet until all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed," Isaacs said. "I'm very confident that he's going to be able to pitch again in the next month or so. Very confident."

Asked whether Simon had been able to stay in shape while in jail, Isaacs said his client has been "running and working out" but that he "just hasn't been throwing."

Simon is on Major League Baseball's restricted list, meaning that he does not count against the team's 40-man roster and he is not being paid or accruing major league service time.

The Orioles can keep him on the restricted list until he is ready to pitch. Even if he arrives at spring training in Sarasota, Fla., next week, the team could keep him on the list until he gets into shape and is ready to pitch in games.

At that point, the team would have to take Simon off the list and open up space on the 40-man roster for him. Even if he were present and healthy, Simon appears to be a long shot to win a role in the team's revamped bullpen.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jeffzrebiecsun

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