A young man with a history of mental illness named Matthew Guzman knocked on the door of his longtime neighbor, Harry Ray, 64, then fatally shot him in the head.
His unfounded, unhinged reason: He claimed Ray had made unwanted sexual advances and “lived during a period of time where racism was openly practiced.”
One month later, with his first killing still unsolved, Guzman walked into a South Miami-Dade tire shop near his home and murdered a second man, 46-year-old Paul Barrow. His motivation this time, the killer later told police, was that the mechanic, married 20 years, gave him a look that “was loaded with homosexual tendencies.”
For the brutal murders in 2010, a Miami-Dade judge on Monday sentenced Guzman to 45 years in prison, but not before relatives of the dead had their say. The victims did nothing to Guzman, they said.
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“When I got the news six-and-a-half years ago, it was like my world stopped,” said Ray’s sister, Faith Xenos. “I simply could not believe it ... We could not understand why our family had been targeted in this senseless, violent way.”
Guzman, who is black of Dominican and Jamaican descent and suffered from mental illness, hung his head in his hands during Monday’s sentencing hearing. The 28-year-old rarely looked up and did not apologize to the families.
Guzman and Ray were neighbors for years and the family was shocked to know someone who grew up next door to them could murder their father. Family members shot down any suggestion that Ray made racist comments.
“You felt he was a racist,” said Kim Selmore, who is African American and the godmother of Ray’s nephew. “Let me tell you something, sir, I know racism. I grew up in North Florida. My father marched with Martin Luther King.”
She added: “For that, I can’t forgive you. I hope there’s a special place in hell for you.”
Under a deal, Guzman pleaded guilty to the two counts of murder, plus another armed robbery. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Victoria del Pino also sentenced him to six years of probation.
Homicide detectives linked Guzman to the murders through bullet casings found at the scenes. He also confessed to the killings.
Defense lawyers said Guzman suffered from schizophrenia and delusions, which was enough to spare Guzman the possibility of the death penalty. But an insanity defense couldn’t fly — the investigation showed that both murders were methodically carried out.
Ray was shot as he sat at his computer, then shot once more in the forehead at point-blank range. Guzman “collected casings and wiped the residence down with a wash cloth attempting to eliminate fingerprint evidence,” according to a police report.
As for Barrow, Guzman used to work at his shop, Devonaire Service and Tire Center, and “waited until the victim was alone in order to ambush him,” according to a police report. He killed Barrow a week before Christmas.
Audree Barrow, the widow of Paul Barrow, said the case still doesn’t feel over.
Barrow opened up the tire shop in 1996, and took care of his daughter and two stepchildren, whom he was like a father to, she said. “We fell in love at first sight.”
“The loss of my wonderful husband of 20 years is beyond words,” she said. “I hope that one day I will feel closure from this horrific, life-changing event.”
Stefani Barrow, his 21-year-old daughter, is expecting a child in October. Despite that joy, the family continues to feel a sense of loss that Paul Barrow won’t be there when the baby arrives. It was the same ache they felt at high school graduation and their daughter’s wedding, said her mother.
“Nothing will bring my dad back,’’ Stefani Barrowsaid after the sentencing, “and I guess justice is kind of served, but not really.”
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.