Last week, we brought you the story of Antontio Balta, the Peruvian horse groomer whose daughter died in the back seat of his car in Hallandale Beach six years ago as he gambled and waited for his girlfriend to get off work. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison, though men with similar cases have received probation -- or were not charged at all.
A small group of concerned citizens across the country have been petitioning to get Balta out of prison. Balta's letters to one those supporters, 89-year-old poet Doris Sutton, show a desperate, religious, confused father.
Of course, most prisoners in Florida are desperate to get out. Most ask friends and family to do anything they can to help in that cause. But Antonio Balta is a little different. Unlike most of the men and women in prison, Balta lives with the knowledge that his infant daughter, Veronika -- he called her "Mami" -- died a heinous death because of a mistake he made.
His family lives in New York and Peru, so he gets almost no visitors. His cell is lined with photos of Veronika, and in addition to getting his GED and helping other prisoners study, Balta has spent much of his time in prison crafting an elaborate dollhouse.
In court, his attorney said Balta had an IQ of 74 and is "borderline retarded." In his letters, the father seems confused but hopeful God will forgive him soon.
"I'm writing to let you know that I'm doing OK; bless by God everyday by giving me life so I can continue learning and preparing for when God will set me free," he writes in one letter to Sutton, whom Balta calls "Mrs. Lady."
His tone is polite, starting most letters with: "Dear Mrs. Lady, I hope that by the grace of God when you receive this letter, you and your family find yourselves in a good health and spirit."
His request to transfer to a prison in New York, where he was moving before Veronika died, was denied. He writes:
"I cannot get transfer to any other state because my case was here in Florida and ICE (Immigration) got me on hold in here; that's sound not right and unfair because I'm trying to get closer to my family in N.Y. I don't know why they make it so complicated."He says someone told him he may qualify for a new law in Florida that could limit the prison sentences of parents whose children die in situations like his. He writes:
"My classification officer (Ms. Epling) told my Aunt that she advise to look into that Law
if I qualify. Mrs. lady, Do I Qualify for that Law? If so maybe you can contact Ms. Epling?"