Javon Dade was sound asleep the morning his young son slipped out an unlocked door into the back yard and into the deadly jaws of a dog named Blue.
The horrific lapse will cost Dade four years of his life.
Dade tearfully pleaded guilty to aggravated manslaughter on Monday, the same day his trial was to begin for the death of 4-year-old Javon Jr. In the end, the evidence was too strong, the emotion of a child’s death too visceral and the stakes too high for Dade to risk a jury trial. He faced from 13 to 30 years in prison if convicted.
“I could have never imagined this happening,” Dade cried, tears rolling down his cheeks. “I take full responsibility.”
Seated in the gallery several yards away, Doreen Reyes, the mother of Javon Jr., cried as she pressed her knuckles to her face. Overwhelmed with grief, the mother declined to speak to the court.
Even Dade’s lawyer, Adam Goodman – himself the father of a 3-year-old daughter – paused through sobs as he read an apology letter from his client.
“This is a very sad case. There weren’t any winners,” Goodman said after the hearing. “He decided at the end of the day, it was better to give closure to the family, give closure to himself and accept responsibility.”
Dade, 31, will surrender to serve his sentence on March 16. When he emerges from prison, Dade must also serve six years of probation.
He must also testify against Alessandra Carrasco, his girlfriend, who was staying with him the morning the young boy was mauled to death. Carraso, 26, is also charged with manslaughter.
Back in August, the child had been living with his mother, Reyes, in Palmetto Bay. Dade picked up his son for an overnight stay at his own home in Goulds the 12300 block of Southwest 230th Street.
Prosecutors said Dade admitted to staying up past 5 a.m. after a night of smoking marijuana laced with cocaine with Carrasco. At some point, Javon Jr., made his way out of a unlocked sliding glass door to the backyard, where Dade kept six dogs.
Carrasco did not discover the boy missing until 9:20 a.m. About an hour later, police discovered the body of the boy, his upper torso and head covered in bite marks, laying in the tall grass behind the home.
Prosecutors said the fatal injuries were caused by a dog named Blue, which they claimed was a Pitbull. The animal was euthanized after the county’s animal services department declared the dog to be a danger.
The county fined Dade $1,040 for not properly licensing his dogs, and not having their rabies vaccines up-to-date.
Pitbulls have been illegal in Miami-Dade since 1989, although the defendant’s legal team disputed that there was definite proof that the dog was a true member of the breed.
Records obtained by the Miami Herald showed the Dades were no strangers to child protection workers.
Three years before Javon’s death, in another home where the family was living, state protection workers were warned about “the smell and danger” of six “untrained dogs” living in the family’s apartment. No action was taken after the parents assured investigators the children were not in danger.
In hearings leading up to the March trial date, Dade’s defense sought to have the case dismissed because Animal Services destroyed the dog before a defense expert could examine the animal to gauge its aggressiveness and breed.
But Circuit Judge Rodney Smith refused, noting that Dade had signed paperwork allowing them to euthanize the animal, though the defense insisted he had no idea what he had agreed to.
The judge also allowed prosecutors to mention that Dade admitted to doing drugs, a key element to proving a “reckless disregard” for the life of his son with a dangerous dog in the backyard.
Also in play on Monday, the judge was to consider whether Animal Services veterinarian Maria Serrano was qualified to describe the dog as a “Pitbull” — a name evocative of violent attacks.
“She is very familiar with this breed,” prosecutor Patricia Mulholland told the judge. “This dog in particular was one of the most aggressive dogs she’d ever seen.”
But before jury selection could begin, Dade suddenly asked to postpone the hearing. “I’m going to look for a new lawyer,” he said.
The legal twists continued: prosecutors quickly announced that a plea deal of 5 years would be off the table. Fast-paced behind-the-scenes negotiations ensued.
Prosecutors privately took aside Reyes, who ultimately agreed to the deal. Prosecutor Santiago Aroca whipped out a laptop to type up the plea agreement. By mid-afternoon, Dade stood red-eyed before the judge.
He did not waiver. His mother, Jocelyn Dade, stood by his side, lamenting the grandchild she called “my Pooka.”
“I know he loved his dad,” she said. As for Javon Jr.’s father, she said, “It’s hurting him. He has to live with this the rest of his life.”