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Miami Officers Beat, Burned Handcuffed Suspect, Prosecutors Allege

MIAMI (AP) -- Federal prosecutors told a jury Friday that four Miami police officers "slapped, kicked, burnt and beat bloody" a handcuffed suspect, but the officers' attorneys said the suspect is a career criminal who was trying to escape.

Prisoner Alexander Anazco was "defenseless" when he was struck on his head and shoulders with a flashlight and a walkie-talkie and burnt with a cigarette, following his 1997 arrest, federal prosecutor Jacqueline Becerra said. She spoke during opening statements of the officers' retrial on charges that they violated Anazco's civil rights.

The officers' lawyers hammered at Anazco's credibility, saying he has more than 25 arrests since his teens.

Anazco is the "worst of the worst, a violent career criminal who not only lied to these police officers but to these prosecutors," defense lawyer David Markus said.

The officers first jury couldn't agree on verdicts in October 2002, creating a mistrial. In the meantime, three of the same officers were tried and two were convicted of helping cover up planted guns after questionable police shootings.

Jesse Aguero was sentenced to more than three years in prison and Jorge Castello to 13 months. Both were fired and are free on bond while appealing their convictions. The same jury deadlocked on Jorge Garcia, who will be retried later.

The fourth officer, Wilfredo Perez, faces trial only in Anazco's beating.

The incident involving Anazco began when Aguero, Castello and Garcia spotted him driving a souped-up Toyota Supra. Police had been seeking a car matching the Supra's description for three days since someone in it had thrown a rock at a Miami police car.

Aguero and Garcia rode in an unmarked van and Castello in a white Thunderbird, also unmarked. When they spotted him in northwest Miami they tried to box in Anazco's Toyota.

Becerra told the jurors Anazco "panicked thinking it was a carjacking and fled the scene."

He was later arrested by Miami-Dade police officers who spotted his car in a nearby autobody shop and, after Perez joined the other officers, beaten, Becerra said.

Defense lawyers said that Anazco really thought he was being carjacked, he would have driven to a police station. Instead, they said, Anazco drove to the body shop and was getting an estimate when he fled.

Jury selection Thursday became a celebrity watch when singer Gloria Estefan was called as a possible juror in the case. Prosecutors asked U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga to disqualify her as a juror because of her being a celebrity.

The judge refused and prosecutors had to use one of their peremptory challenges to remove her from a panel of 12 jurors and two alternates.

The defendants face up to five years in prison if convicted. The trial is expected to last about a week.

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