The similarities of the Conte case to the slaying last week of Broward Sheriff's Office transport Deputy Paul Rein brought back tragic memories.
BY DAN CHRISTENSEN
BROWARD COUNTY, Fla. — The triggerman in the 1979 ambush slaying of Broward detention deputy Joseph Conte during a prisoner transfer is scheduled for release from a Florida prison next year.
The similarities of the Conte case to the slaying last week of Broward Sheriff's Office transport Deputy Paul Rein brought back tragic memories for many officers -- and may fuel their fight to keep Conte's killer behind bars.
Sheriff Al Lamberti brought up the case in a news conference Wednesday after Rein's death.
''I was here at BSO when deputy Joe Conte was murdered,'' he said. ``It was a tragic event.''
John Arthur Gombos was one of four persons convicted in Broward Circuit Court of Conte's murder. Broward State Attorney Mike Satz prosecuted the case personally, and Gombos was sentenced to 75 years for the murder, and five more for aiding an escape, according to state records.
Broward Detention Sgt. Pat Lambert, who oversees the union that represents the county's detention officers, was not aware that Gombos was set to get out soon.
''We're very upset about this. He killed a law enforcement officer,'' said Lambert, of the National Federation of Public and Private Employees. ``We are very politically active, and after we bury Deputy Rein, we intend to work to keep Gombos in jail where he belongs.''
Conte died July 13, 1979 -- killed by a shotgun blast to the head and chest that was fired as he and Deputy Carey Barefield were escorting four handcuffed prisoners from a medical building where they'd gone to the dentist.
Two of those inmates were Gary Eaton and Donald W. Miller. Police accounts say Eaton planned the escape and enlisted girlfriend Dawn Sobel, a topless dancer from Miramar, to find a gunman. Sobel recruited Gombos.
''OK . . . bring them on around,'' were Conte's last words before Barefield heard a blast, saw smoke and spotted Conte sprawled on the ground, records say.
Gombos' behavior between now and July could delay his release. But it's also possible Gombos could get out sooner on parole. The Florida Parole Commission will hear his case in the next few months, the Broward State Attorney's Office said.
If Gombos is released next July, he'll have served a little more than a third of his 80-year sentence.
Eaton and Miller are serving life sentences, with no projected release dates. Sobel is serving 80 years for murder and aiding an escape. Her release date is in January 2015, extended partly because of discipline problems in jail, corrections department spokeswoman Jo Ellyn Rackleff said.
Barefield retired from BSO five years ago and has since died, Lambert said.
Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the Miami-Dade state attorney's office, was a friend of Conte's.
''Joe was short of stature, but big of heart,'' Griffith said.
Gombos is being held at the minimum security Tomoka Work Camp, near Daytona Beach.
Rackleff said Gombos, 56, is scheduled to have decades shaved off his time behind bars because his case is governed by more lenient laws in effect when he was sentenced in 1980.
''I've seen so many of these. The ones who came in during the old days, before mandatory sentences. . . . They got a third of their time off just for walking in the door,'' Rackleff said.
Broward prosecutors said they're committed to trying to keep Gombos in prison. In fact, said spokesman Ron Ishoy, as recently as May a prosecutor traveled to Tallahassee to argue against parole for Gombos. A Broward prosecutor will also be at the coming parole commission hearing, he said.
Gombos has been eligible for parole since 2003.
In 1999, Broward County named a new jail in Pompano Beach in his honor. The Joseph V. Conte Facility houses 1,328 inmates.
Miami Herald staff writer Wanda J. DeMarzo contributed to this report.
© 2007 Miami Herald
Similarities in deputies' slayings are recalled