Crime

Murder charge dropped, for now, for man who stabbed FIU running back

 

dovalle@MiamiHerald.com

Long vexed by eyewitnesses unavailable for trial, prosecutors on Wednesday dropped the murder charge against a former Florida International University student who fatally stabbed school running back Kendall Berry during an on-campus brawl in March 2010.

But the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said it plans to immediately refile the second-degree murder charge against Quentin Wyche, 25, who has agreed to surrender once a warrant is finalized.

“We have not abandoned the prosecution of this case,” said office spokesman Ed Griffith.

Prosecutors were forced to drop the case, for the moment, because a Miami-Dade judge on Wednesday refused to grant yet another delay. Since the case was originally filed, the state has told judges that many of the eyewitnesses are current or former students who either live out of state or had schedule conflicts at school.

The dropping of the case buys time for prosecutors to ensure their witnesses are ready for trial.

Despite the plans to refile the murder charge, Wyche’s attorney sounded confident Wednesday.

“My client is very happy to have the case dropped by the state,” said defense lawyer David Peckins. “He’s looking forward to resuming his life. Our hearts go out to the family of Kendall Berry; this whole case was a tragedy for both families.”

The pace of the case against Wyche — who has been free on bond while awaiting trial — has slowed to a crawl in recent months.

Berry, 22, and several football players confronted Wyche outside a campus recreation center on March 25, 2010. Witnesses said Wyche broke away from the scrum toward the building. Several witnesses said Berry ran after him.

A key prosecution witness, Chidinma Orj, an FIU student at the time, told police she saw Wyche fish a pair of scissors out of a backpack, break them apart and run back toward Berry.

“He was just saying stuff like, ‘I’m a get him,’” she initially told Miami-Dade homicide detectives.

Wyche killed Berry, who was unarmed, with a fatal thrust to the heart.

Tensions between the pair had flared earlier in the day when Wyche argued with Berry’s girlfriend, Regina Johnson, who worked for a campus golf cart shuttle-service system.

Witnesses told police that Wyche, a former walk-on football player, threw a cookie or smashed a cookie in the young woman’s face.

His defense attorney argued that Wyche was acting in self defense as he was ganged up on by a group of football players. But prosecutors argue that Wyche instigated the fatal episode by returning and reengaging Berry.

His lawyer initially asked a Miami-Dade judge to dismiss the murder charge based on Florida’s Stand Your Ground law, which eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using lethal force to meet a threat of death or great bodily harm.

The controversial law — which took center stage in the recently concluded George Zimmerman trial — also gave judges greater leeway to grant immunity from prosecution to someone who claims self defense.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Milton Hirsch, however, refused to grant Wyche immunity.

The law “does not purport to justify the use of deadly force in response to threats or shows of force of any and every kind,” Hirsch wrote in his ruling. “In ordinary circumstances, a push or a slap may be met with a push or a slap, or perhaps with a punch — but not with a bullet, whether under ‘Stand Your Ground’ or any provision of Florida law.”

Wyche, if and when he goes to trial, can still argue self defense before a jury.

The jury trial had been set for November, but was delayed when Wyche wrote a letter critical of Hirsch to the county’s chief administrative judge, prompting Hirsch to recuse himself.

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