Witnesses could prove Simon's innocence

Witnesses could prove Simon's innocence

Witnesses could prove Simon's innocence
BALTIMORE -- The case of Orioles reliever Alfredo Simon was buoyed on Monday as one of Simon's agents, Phil Isaac, said that there are several witnesses in the Dominican Republic willing to testify that the pitcher could not have fired the bullet that killed Michael Esteban Castillo Almonte on New Year's Eve.

Isaac spent last weekend in the Dominican talking to lawyers and others involved with his client's case and said he believes Simon was "quite a distance" from the spot where his cousin, the 25-year-old Almonte, was killed. Simon, who was charged with allegedly killing his cousin and injuring the cousin's brother, surrendered to police in the Dominican Republic on Jan. 3.

The Baltimore Sun spoke to Isaac earlier in the day and was the first to report the news of the witnesses, which is one of several factors that Isaac believes reaffirms Simon's innocence.

"Some of the things we looked at it seem to strengthen his case a little bit more," Isaac said to MLB.com. "We've spoken to the witnesses and have looked at other information pertaining to the case, and we expect that to come forward as the proceedings play out."

Isaac declined to elaborate on what that other information may be, but he did say that the new evidence "reaffirms" Simon's innocence.

"I'd like to say the level of optimism from Day 1 has remained constant here," Isaac said. "There's obviously a lot of different reports out there ... a lot of which has come out of left field.

"What we have been focusing on is our client and maintaining and supporting him in his case."

Having several witnesses testify that Simon did not fire the fatal bullet is a stark contrast from what Starlin Castillo Hernandez, the 17-year-old half-brother of Almonte, told the Dominican media last week. Hernandez, who was shot in the right arm, said Simon was not shooting celebratory shots in the air -- as he has claimed -- and told the El Nacional if that was true, "We must all have been sleeping."

The official ballistics report on Simon's gun is expected to be revealed Tuesday, although Simon's attorney, Carlos Olivares, told CNN in a telephone interview last week that the preliminary findings were "favorable" to his client. Police has expressed some skepticism about the initial report, and although Isaac admitted it is only part of the overall investigation, he said Monday that it's "certainly an important factor" in the case against Simon.

"He's handling it as best as he can," Isaac said of Simon. "We are looking forward to the ballistics report and the rest of the case. That's really what we are looking at right now."

The O's have not commented publicly on the matter, but director of player development John Stockstill flew to the Dominican Republic early last week with the intent of meeting with Simon, sorting through the facts and determining the proper course of action.

A native of Santiago, D.R., Simon was a key part of the O's bullpen last season in the wake of injuries to Koji Uehara, Michael Gonzalez and Jim Johnson. Simon's contract was purchased less than a year after he underwent Tommy John surgery, and he compiled 17 saves in 2010. He went 4-2 with a 4.93 ERA and was projected to compete for one of the final spots in the club's bullpen this year.

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.