"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Squared off and stocky, a former boxer with the sad eyes and country lilt of a movie cowboy, Doug Gentry looks like a man who can take care of himself. For the past year, Gentry has been locked in the biggest fight of his life: the fight to save his stepson, Gavino Mazurek, from spending the next 35 years in prison. Though some might well chalk up Gentry's take on things to a parent's blindness to the sins of his child, Gentry makes a case worth hearing, if only because of his heartfelt passion about his son's innocence.
In his version of things, Gavino was put on trial by a local justice system out for blood, conned into taking a guilty plea (and later denied the right to pull that plea and tell his side of things to a jury), and sentenced to 35 years in prison — all, Gentry said, for the crime of trying to help a friend find some pot.
After marrying Gavino's mother Patricia, Gentry took on Gavino and raised him alongside his own sons, coaching his stepson in boxing for 10 years. As Gavino's teenage years set In, however, Gentry said the boy started arguing more and more with his mother. Finally, at 17, Gavino went to live with his father, Bernie Mazurek. Around the same time, Gentry said, Gavino fell in with a bad crowd, and started smoking and selling dope. Even still, Gentry insists, he knows his son — the kid who had long talked of becoming a preacher; who scolded friends and family for not praying when they ate — couldn't have committed the crime he is accused of.
"I raised this boy since he was seven," Gentry said. "This boy spent a lot of quality time with me. I know this boy. He can’t tell me a lie, and even if he tried, I would know it. I can tell you, he had nothing to do with this."
Though Pulaski County prosecutors and witness Casey Harvey said Gavino helped plan the robbery that later escalated to the murder of Brady Alexander, Gentry said that Gavino has told him all along that he knew nothing about the robbery attempt. "The papers have said things about him being the mastermind of the planning," Gentry said. "He never knew that they [Moore and Tavron] were going to do any harm to Brady. They were friends. He thought [Brady] was going to meet them to buy some marijuana, and that was it."
Gentry said that after Gavino's arrest, when they started looking for an attorney to represent him, it soon became clear to him that the Pulaski County legal system would never give any of the defendants in the case a fair shake. Gentry and his wife contacted a dozen Little Rock criminal defense attorneys. Each one of them turned down the case, saying they had a conflict of interest because they knew Brady Alexander's mother, Jacque, the former Pulaski County clerk. Though the Gentrys eventually found an attorney from Cabot who would represent Gavino, the experience left Doug with the feeling that dark forces were at work; that friends of Jacque Alexander were pulling legal strings behind the scenes to ensure convictions in the three cases — up to and including, Gentry's alleges, a backroom deal between Gavino's attorney and prosecutors to scare Gavino into agreeing to a plea deal, and the refusal by Judge Chris Piazza to let him pull that plea and receive a jury trial.
"If I was the Alexanders, I’m sure I’d be just like they are," Gentry said. "It’s a terrible thing that happened to their son. I’m sorry for it. But if we could have went to trial, I think the truth would have come out and they would have seen the truth. Gavino was Brady’s friend. He never would have done anything to hurt him."
Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson headed up the prosecution of all three suspects in the Brady Alexander murder. While he's convinced that Gavino Mazurek was in on planning of the robbery of Brady Alexander, he said that even if you believe the story that Gavino knew nothing of the robbery, Mazurek is still guilty of capital felony murder.
"There’s different ways to commit a capital murder," Johnson said. "Usually people think about the premeditated part, but there’s also capital felony murder. Capital felony murder is where you aid or agree to aid someone in the furtherance of the kidnapping, rape, aggravated robbery, burglary, or delivery of a controlled substance…. Even if things were as Gavino would like us to believe, he’s still an accomplice in the delivery of a controlled substance. He’s guilty of capital murder."
Even putting that aside, Johnson said there are several things which convinced him that Gavino knew the deal at the Waffle House was a setup for robbery. Though Gavino's dishonesty with police during initial questioning and a slew of cell phone calls back and forth between Gavino, Tavron and Brady just before the kidnapping helped make the case, it was Gavino's dishonesty with Brady that convinced Johnson that it was more than just a pot deal from the beginning.
"If poor little Gavino is completely innocent in all this, he would have told Brady everything that was going to happen," Johnson said. "He would have said 'I’m stuck at work.' Why didn’t he say, 'two of my boys are going to come do the deal with you. Is that going to be a problem?'… It’s a pretty intricate lie. He’s delaying them on the parking lot to give Tavron and Moore a chance to get up to them. He tells them to park. They ask he where he is, and he says he’s inside -- to quote him, ‘taking a shit.’ That gives Tavron and Moore the opportunity to get out there."
Johnson said that Gavino and Tavron saw Brady Alexander as an easy hit — a weak kid who always had money. They planned a robbery. From there, everything just went horrendously wrong.
"I think it was exactly the way we charged it," Johnson said. "It was an aggravated robbery, an easy way for these guys to get some money, and it sort of panned out the way the [capital murder] statute contemplates: that robbery is an inherently dangerous crime and highly foreseeable that someone will be killed in the course or furtherance of it… I think that what they didn’t anticipate is Brady fighting in the car. He gets shot the first time, and they think the only way to clean it up is to kill him."
On Gavino's failed attempt to withdraw his guilty plea, Johnson said it appeared to him that Gavino was being talked into the idea by family members who "aren't going to suffer if they're wrong." That was part of the reason why Johnson didn't push to void Gavino's sentencing deal, even though Gavino backed out on testifying against Martinous "M.J." Moore in exchange for a lesser sentence.
"Thirty five years is a good deal for him, and it was the right thing for him" Johnson said. "You have all these people who are all of a sudden willing to stand up for this kid. I don’t know what role that they’ve had in his life. But I know there are people in his family who were in support of him pleading…Where were all these people when he was going wrong, and where were they when he initially pled?"
For his part, Doug Gentry isn't abandoning his stepson. Gentry and his wife dipped into their savings to hire another lawyer for Gavino, They say they might appeal the case if they can get the money to do it. For now, Gentry goes to visit Gavino — who was waiting to be shipped out to the Arkansas Department of Correction when Gentry spoke to the Times in late May — whenever he can.
"He said he should have never been in that court — that it was a set-up deal from the start," Gentry said. "Every time he talks to me, he says, 'Dad, I'm still going through the fire. God is cleansing me through this. I stepped away from Him and He's using this to bring me back.'"