Over the years, Michael Lamont Person beat a kidnapping charge, a murder rap and landed mere probation in another slaying outside a Miami bar.
He lived free for 21 months until the streets finally caught up with him.
Late Thursday night, a group of men circling in a gray Chevy Cruze opened fired on Person outside a home in Liberty City. He was felled by one, possibly two bullets. A second man was wounded but survived.
Miami homicide detectives are now piecing together Person’s life in an effort to find his killers, while word of his death became the buzz in Miami jail Friday.
“I didn’t think there was a bullet that could be manufactured that could claim the life of Michael Person,” said his former defense attorney, G.P. Della Fera. “I really believed Michael had changed the direction of his life. It’s so sad that another young man died in a senseless Miami drive-by shooting.”
Person, 31, was well known to police. Over the years, he has been arrested more than a dozen times and was believed to be an associate of Kenny Smith, nephew of notorious “John Doe” gang drug lord Corey Smith; the younger Smith was gunned down in August 2006 in Liberty City.
At the time, it was one of a series of bloody gang retaliation shootings in Liberty City fueled by the drug trade.
Person and another man named Michael Francis — who was wounded in the gun attack on Smith — were arrested in November 2006 in connection with a murder in Liberty City.
But the case hinged on one key witness, whose credibility was suspect because he had offered up his account only after he was arrested on a slew armed robbery charges. And the witness was also deemed mentally incompetent to proceed to trial — prosecutors were forced to drop the charges in January 2007.
“At the time, Person was listed as suspect in three or four murders and other shootings,” said retired Miami-Dade homicide detective Ray Hoadley. “But there was never enough evidence to charge him.”
But authorities managed to arrest him in a completely unrelated case — one sparked by a feud over child support.
The victim was Larry “Jazzie” Abernathy, who was gunned down during a bizarre melee outside Johnnie’s Bar and Grille in Miami in November 2006. According to police, Abernathy had gotten into an argument over child support with his girlfriend, Latressa Height, who called her son to the bar and ordered him to bring his “chopper” — street slang for an AK-47.
The son, Ernest Height, arrived with a group of friends that police said included Francis and Person. They opened fire on Abernathy as he begged for his life. Francis lost at trial and is doing life in prison; his sentence was later reduced to four years in prison. Latressa and Earnest Height pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against Person, who was not indicted for first-degree murder until 2009.
At the time, he was also accused of kidnapping and strangling his ex-girlfriend, a charge he also beat, records show.
In the Abernathy murder case, the evidence was not strong. Person’s defense attorney was able to show that surveillance of the killing — that would have shown who fired their weapons — had disappeared despite police seizing the footage.
Ultimately, Person pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, despite insisting he was innocent. His defense attorney called it as “plea of convenience.”
In January 2015, Person walked out of jail to serve six years of probation. His time of supervision was not trouble free — Florida’s corrections department in June alleged that he violated his probation, although it was not immediately clear why.
Person was eventually returned to probation, until he died Thursday.
Anyone with information on Person’s murder can call Miami’s homicide unit at 305-670-6530, or Miami-Dade CrimeStoppers at 305-471-TIPS.