In March, the death of Cheri Rollins seemed a tragic but all-too-familiar city tale: she appeared drunk at a neighbor’s Miami home, passed out on a mattress and never woke up.
Cause of death: overdose of heroin, cocaine and alcohol.
But this month, police learned there was a chilling back story to the death of the 28-year-old community activist visiting from Philadelphia. This week Miami homicide detectives, in a rare murder case, arrested the man they believe was responsible for her overdose.
A woman came forward to claim that her boyfriend, Miami drug dealer Raymundo Rodriguez Fernandez, continuously plied Rollins with high-grade heroin, even as the woman became “almost catatonic” and “began mumbling unintelligibly,” police said.
When Rollins passed out, Fernandez began to “violently smack” her across the face, punching her in the head before stuffing ice down her pants and splashing water across her face, the woman said.
After that didn’t work, Fernandez called a friend, who arrived and injected her arm with a mixture of table salt and tap water, a concoction that was supposed to revive Rollins, according to the woman.
Despite pleas from his girlfriend to call 911 or rush Rollins to the hospital, Fernandez refused, instead laying her on a mattress to sleep off the heroin high, according to an arrest warrant released Thursday.
It was not until nearly eight hours later that Fernandez — after hiding his drugs and a gun — allowed his girlfriend to call 911 for Rollins, the girlfriend said. Paramedics rushed her to the hospital. Rollins died.
“It was really cruel what he did to her,” said Rollins’ mother, Francisca Sanchez. “It was inhumane. She did not deserve that.”
Miami police detectives this week served a murder warrant on Fernandez, who is jailed in Palm Beach on burglary charges.
In Philadelphia, Rollins was known as “Sheddy,” working as a community activist, particularly in the city’s gay and lesbian community. As a co-director for the advocacy group Philadelphia Student Union, Rollins fought against school privatization.
“She was really driven by her love of people and the belief that everyone should have a life free of oppression,” said friend and fellow activist Kimberly Murray.
Rollins, a mother of an 8-year-old son, also worked several years for Detroit Summer, a group that helps at-risk young people through music and the arts. She was so beloved that supporters there helped raise over $10,000 for funeral expenses, said friend Ill Weaver.
“We were able to raise that in a week’s time,” Weaver said.
Back in March, Rollins had been in Miami visiting her girlfriend in the Buena Vista neighborhood near the trendy Design District.
On the night of March 11, Rollins texted her girlfriend to say she was going to hang out with their neighbors.
Rollins never came home that night. It was not until 4:45 a.m. the next morning that Adriana Laverde knocked frantically on the girlfriend’s door saying Rollins was in her home “ill.” Paramedics were unable to revive her.
Laverde, the girlfriend of Fernandez, claimed that the stumbling woman had come over drunk and “very out of it.”
Laverde claimed that she placed Rollins on a mattress and could hear her “snoring loudly through the night,” according to a warrant prepared by Miami Detective Eutimio Cepero and prosecutor Rebecca DiMeglio.
“I knew they were lying,” said Sanchez, Rollins’ mother. “My daughter would never ever do that. That was a story they invented to cover themselves.”
It was not until September that Laverde came clean. She admitted lying because Fernandez “threatened to kill her and her son if she reported the truth.”
Laverde revealed that Fernandez, with the reality TV show Cops blaring in the background, scooped up a new batch of his product and “pushed it right up the victim’s nose.”
Rollins snorted the sample and began nodding off. Nevertheless, Fernandez quickly gave her at least three more “bumps” of the drug, according to the warrant.
“No one is calling police,” Fernandez allegedly told Laverde as she begged for help for Rollins.
Fernandez, 59, is a violent career criminal who has been in and out of prison on robbery and drug charges.
Miami-Dade prosecutors charged him with first-degree murder under a rarely used provision of the law that penalizes anyone that gives a user cocaine or heroin and ends in death.
There have been several notable recent cases. A Miami Beach drug dealer named Charles Greenfield was arrested in 2008 after one of his clients overdosed on heroin. He served six years in prison.
A year earlier, Miami Beach police also arrested Christopher Rodriguez, a security guard who sold ecstasy pills to a 15-year-old girl on her way to party in South Beach. She became sick and died.
He, too, was convicted of murder and did six years in prison.
In another case in 2007, Miami-Dade police arrested Melanie Mazzotti for first-degree murder after she smuggled in drugs to her jailed boyfriend. The package burst in his stomach and killed him. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter and agreed to 10 years of probation.
If you want to help
Donations for Rollins’ grieving family can be made at http://www.gofundme.com/fundformami