Judge denies Urbina release; attack trial looms

Updated: January 28, 2006, 1:50 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

A Venezuelan judge on Friday denied relief pitcher Ugueth Urbina's request to be released from prison pending his trial on attempted murder charges.

Urbina, who turns 32 on Feb. 15, was present at Friday's hearing. No trial date has been set.

Urbina pitched last season for the Detroit Tigers and Philadelphia Phillies. He is charged with an Oct. 15 machete and lighter fluid attack on five men who worked at his ranch. The 11-year veteran reliever, who has earned more than $25-million in his career, says his accusers had a violent confrontation with other workers that did not involve Urbina, but that they leveled charges against him because they seek his money.

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Urbina has remained in jail since December when a Venezuelan tribunal ordered him held after prosecutors formally presented their evidence.

Urbina faces charges of attempted murder, conspiring with others to commit a crime, illegal deprivation of liberty and violating a prohibition against taking justice into one's own hands. If found guilty of all four crimes, he would face up to 20 years in jail.

Urbina's mother has alleged that someone associated with the judiciary in her son's attempted murder case in Venezuela offered to set him free in exchange for U.S. currency.

"The day he was held, this person called me and told me that he could help my son gain his freedom in exchange for money," Maura Villareal told the Venezuela Daily Journal in December, without divulging how much money was requested.

"Everybody wants a piece of the action for the freedom of my son ... in this case there are four people charged, and the only one in jail is my son because he has money," Villareal told the newspaper.

In an interview last December with ESPN from his jail cell, Urbina said he also believes he's being extorted for money. Now, if convicted of the attack, Urbina could face 10 years in a Venezuelan prison.

"I love my country, but here, there are people that love money," Urbina told ESPN in the exclusive interview. "What do they gain from this? They say that it was me so that they can get money, you understand? These are people that live simply, let's say. So by them saying it was me, they could somehow gain and take money from all of this."

He added: "I'm trying to find a solution to this problem and clear my name as much as possible so that people can see I had nothing to do with this problem."

But his arrest, says one of his accusers, is not an elaborate extortion plot.

"What we want is justice, for him to pay with jail time," said Ricardo Osal, who needed 300 stitches to close wounds on his back and another 150 to repair severed tendons in his hands. "We're not looking for any type of financial arrangement. Nothing that has anything to do with money. We don't want them to offer us any money and we're not asking them for any money."

Police allege crimes occurred following a dispute over a gun. The 31-year-old free agent is accused of joining a group of men in attacking and injuring five workers with machetes and pouring gasoline on them at his family's ranch, about 25 miles south of Caracas, on Oct. 16.

The pitcher's lawyer, Jose Luis Tamayo, said Urbina surprised the workers by showing up at his ranch that night while they were bathing in the pool without permission. Urbina spoke sharply to them, but later left and went to sleep, Tamayo said.

Urbina repeatedly has denied involvement with the violence, saying he was sleeping at the time of the attack.

Tamayo had said there was no evidence implicating Urbina and requested his immediate release from the detention center outside Caracas where he's been held since Nov. 9. After prosecutors formally presented their evidence in a closed hearing on Thursday, the tribunal rejected the defense request.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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