Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Florida inmates may want to perfect their poker face.One day, they could be playing cards in prison and come across the faces of their own murder victims.That's the idea behind a series of "cold case" card decks spreading throughout Florida jails and prisons, where investigators hope inmates will see a familiar crime story and squeal on their fellow prisoners.Thousands of the decks have been handed out in jails in Southwest Florida, including in Charlotte County. And more are in the works for jails in Manatee, Miami-Dade and other counties. A statewide deck is set to hit prisons across Florida this spring.Each card in the decks features an unsolved murder or disappearance and shows the victim's picture with a description of the crime."Who knows more about who commits crimes than the criminals?" asked Jack Sullivan, president of the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers.No one expects the cards to spawn a wave of arrests. But they have already helped solve one case.And at about $1.60 per pack, crime fighters figure that alone justifies the cost."If it leads to a resolution in one case, it's completely worth it," said Trish Routte, spokeswoman for Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers.Tommy Ray, a special agent for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, proposed Florida's first cold case deck after seeing fugitive cards similar to those used to track down terrorists in Iraq.About two years ago, Ray convinced Crime Stoppers to make a deck of Polk County's unsolved homicides.Within two months, an inmate offered up a tip that led to two men being charged for the 2004 murder of Thomas Wayne Grammar.In the past seven months, tips attributed to cold case cards have provided Polk County investigators with information in at least 10 unsolved homicides, Ray said.Decks used in county jails contain cases from that area. The Southwest Florida deck features about a dozen Charlotte County and North Port cases, including the 2001 murder of Victoria Arena, who flashes an open-mouthed grin from the four of spades.Victoria's mother, Marion Kovacs, 64, said inmates with information might turn someone in because they're forced to look at victims' faces again and again."It's a good idea," Kovacs said.Melanie Bonjour said she had a "bipolar reaction" when she learned that images of her parents, Paul and Rita Stasny, would be plastered to jailhouse game pieces.The Stasnys, ages 71 and 69, were shot to death in their Port Charlotte home in 1991.Bonjour, who collects every news article about her parents' deaths, decided she could not stand to have the cards in her house."It was a hit in the chest because it's your parents' faces on those cards," Bonjour said. "It's not a game. I don't want them remembered like that. But again, I don't want them forgotten either."Unlike regular decks, which they must buy, inmates can use the cold case cards for free. The decks are paid for by fees charged to criminals when they are sentenced.For their part, several Charlotte County jail inmates were skeptical that the cards would keep the victims on inmates' minds."I don't think the guys focus on the crimes," said Keith Willis, an inmate convicted of burglaries. "They just play with the cards."But Ray argues that not every inmate is a hardened criminal.Inmates have told him: "'We're not going to turn someone in for theft or dealing drugs. But murder, that's a different story,'" Ray said.Gregory Daniels, in Charlotte's jail on two robbery charges, said he was moved by at least one card."This is something that breaks my heart -- a little kid," he said as he examined a card showing 4-year-old Pilar Rodriguez. "A lot of people need to be off the streets."