Soon to be freed from behind bars: A South Dakota man blamed for the Sunny Isles Beach slaying of his boss — a nationally known figure in the door-to-door magazine subscription sales business.
Jeremy Johnson, 26, pleaded no contest Thursday in Miami-Dade circuit court to aggravated assault and guilty to the armed burglary that ended in the killing of Robert Spruiell in May 2008.
Spruiell was a prominent clan member on the outer-lying Hawaiian island of Molokai, where he owned the community’s only restaurant at the time.
Miami-Dade police alleged that Johnson and Spruiell burst into a room at the Golden Nugget motel on Collins Avenue and attacked the tenant, who stabbed Spruiell to death.
Johnson originally had been charged with second-degree felony murder because the armed burglary led to his employer’s demise. On Thursday, prosecutors reduced the charge to aggravated assault and Johnson agreed to a five-year sentence.
With credit for time served since 2008, he’ll likely be free in a few days.
Spruiell, 38, owned a series of Arizona door-to-door subscription companies – an industry that has drawn scorn from consumer advocates for allegations of fraud, improper background checks and exploitation of youngsters who criss-cross the nation hawking magazines.
His company was sued in 2008 after two salespeople were charged with murdering a New Mexico couple; the salesmen later were exonerated when DNA proved another man actually committed the crime.
Spruiell was well-liked by his salespeople and adamantly defended them, especially against the influence of drugs.
In May 2008, his group had been staying at the Golden Nugget, 18555 Collins Ave. He had confronted a motel tenant, Jesus Cisneros, over cocaine the man allegedly supplied to a salesperson.
Spruiell went to Cisneros’ room and got into to a fight. Cisneros claimed Spruiell was stabbed to death when he wrestled a knife away. He claimed self-defense. Detectives arrested Johnson.
But for prosecutors, Cisneros proved a troubling victim and witness. He had recorded 13 arrests since 2000, including a conviction for cocaine possession and resisting arrest with violence two years before the stabbing.
He also gave shifting versions of what happened. Defense attorney Phillip Reizenstein says that at trial, he would have proved that Cisneros was the one who produced the knife, stabbing Spruiell 14 times on the left side of the body, making him the clear aggressor.
“This is very bittersweet,” Reizenstein said of the plea deal. “But Jeremy has waited a long time and he wanted to go home. He took a plea deal that amounted to credit for time served.”
Johnson pleaded no contest to aggravated assault, and because he was granted a “withhold of adjudication,” it won’t show on his felony record. He also pleaded guilty to the armed burglary, which will show on his criminal history.
Spruiell, known in Hawaii as Kamuela Kamakana, was born of an islander mother and before his death had recently bought a bar-restaurant on the rural island of Molokai. The business employed 43 people on a sparsely populated island hard-hit by tough economic times.
He also owned a 9-acre ranch on Molokai, where his ashes were scattered after his death. His estate later sold off the business and the ranch.
“We’re just carrying on,” his uncle, Pete Gonsalves, said Thursday. “It’s been four-and-half years and we still think about him all the time. It’s just a sad part of our family history.”