In slow motion, captured on video surveillance, the murders are particularly excruciating to watch.
Julian Soler eases his old Ford Mustang into a Miami Gardens gas station. As he finishes gassing up the car, a diminutive gunman exits a car next to him, opens Soler’s front door and pulls him out.
Having just celebrated his 23rd birthday, Soler lifts his arms “in surrender,” a prosecutor told jurors this week as the footage played frame by agonizing frame.
Soler’s girlfriend, Kennia Duran, 24, grows hysterical as another robber pulls her from the Mustang’s passenger seat.
Then gunfire erupts. The video shows Soler crumple to the concrete, his arms still raised.
“That man shoots him not once, not twice, but eight times as he lies on the ground helpless,” Miami-Dade prosecutor Alejandra Lopez told jurors on the first day of trial of the teenager accused of killing Soler.
Duran, too, fell to the ground, mortally wounded by gunfire from another man, another member of what authorities say was a violent gang on a crime spree in July 2011.
Weeks later, the waif-like suspect, 16-year-old Eric Ellington, admitted to Miami Gardens detectives that he indeed shot Soler.
“He didn’t look scared enough,” Lopez said, describing Ellington’s chilling words on a confession filmed by police.
Wednesday marked the opening statements in the trial of Ellington, now 19, who is charged with the murders, as well as a separate carjacking that took place just before the killings.
Ellington is the first of three young defendants to go to trial. Two others, Wayne Williams, 19, and Dylan McFarlane, 20, are awaiting trial. They face life in prison if convicted.
The trial began even though Ellington’s mother, in a private meeting with her son in the court’s jury room, begged him to accept a plea deal of 40 years in prison — plus testimony against the other two robbers.
And so Lopez, who is trying the case with prosecutor Michael Von Zamft, told 12 jurors on Wednesday about the gang’s night of terror.
Earlier in the evening, at gunpoint, they robbed a husband and wife of their Cadillac Escalade at a Bank of America branch as the man finished depositing casino winnings.
The couple was unharmed and immediately called police. The Escalade was equipped with the tracking service OnStar, which remotely disabled the SUV. The robbers ditched the vehicle, but looked for another target while roaming in a green Nissan Pathfinder.
The SUV pulled up to the Mobil station at 16691 NW 57th Ave., where they found Soler and Duran in the Mustang.
Duran lived in Miami Lakes and worked as an administrative assistant at Catholic Charities, an organization led by the Archdiocese of Miami. Soler, a Mustang aficionado, worked at LP Performance Racing in Opa-locka.
After the killings, the Pathfinder was discovered torched.
But Miami Gardens detectives found Ellington’s palm print on the passenger side of the stolen Escalade — and palm and finger prints on the driver’s side of the Mustang, according to the state.
At the police station, Ellington’s mother urged him to tell detectives the truth. He even begged detectives not to play the surveillance video for her, Lopez said.
Ultimately, she said, Ellington confessed.
His defense attorneys suggested Ellington only confessed — under pressure from police detectives — because he was scared of his older cohorts.
“These are scary dudes,” said assistant public defender Matthew McElligott. “All tough kids. Eric knows them.”
McElligott said the earlier carjacking victim misidentified Ellington, who, he argued, did not participate in the crime but did joyride with the other boys later that night.
As for prints on the Mustang, McElligott said that prosecutors cannot definitely say they belong to Ellington.
“See if they prove it,” McElligott said. “They will not.”
The trial is expected to continue into next week before Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O.