Thomas Muloni was minding his own business, asleep against a wall along the Miami River on a hot May day, when a young fisherman approached him looking for bait. When the stranger didn't get what he wanted, he grabbed the homeless man's hat and tossed it in the water.
Then, when Muloni stood up to confront Rhyheim Shadrach Woodard, the 16-year-old pushed the homeless man into the slow-moving water, and rode away on his bicycle as the man drowned, police said.
One of Muloni’s homeless friends managed to summon a police officer. But it was too late. The water was too murky and Muloni wasn’t in sight.
A day later, Muloni’s body washed ashore downstream near a river bank. The Miami-Dade medical examiner said Muloni, 30, drowned, and called the death a homicide.
Last week, Woodard was arrested and charged with second-degree murder. He’s biding his time at the Juvenile Detention Center as state prosecutors decide whether to try Woodard as an adult.
“They look at his record and the nature of the crime,” said Miami-Dade State Attorney Spokesman Ed Griffith. “This is an ugly crime of violence.”
Prosecutors said it’s not likely they would up the charge to first-degree murder, which is a premeditated killing. A decision is expected next month.
Meanwhile, Woodard’s mother doesn’t believe her son would have harmed Muloni without provocation.
“He’s not that type of kid,” Willie Mae Woodard said. His father called him a good kid who was trying to work out some issues.
Woodard’s arrest affidavit says he approached Muloni at 2 p.m. May 24 as the homeless man slept next to a wall along the busy working river at Northwest North River Drive and Third Street.
“The defendant and witness #1 awake the victim and started harassing him, asking him for bait. The defendant then grabbed the victim’s hat from off his head and threw it into the river,” the police report says.
When Muloni stood up, he was pushed into the water fully clothed in pants, shirt and shoes. Witnesses said he struggled to stay afloat, then went under for good. That’s when, according to the police report, Woodard grabbed a sack with Muloni’s belongings and fled on a bike. One of Muloni’s friends flagged down a police officer, but it was too late.
The next night, at close to 7 on May 25, police found Muloni’s body floating near a river bank three blocks east at Northwest North River Drive and West Flagler Street. A witness identified Woodard after seeing a photo of him and he was arrested and charged with murder on July 15.
Little information on Woodard has been found since his arrest last week. His parents admit he’s had trouble in school, but family members wouldn’t say where or if he’s attending class. Miami police records indicate he was reported missing on May 29, five days after Muloni’s death. One source familiar with the investigation said Woodard is constantly running away from home.
Miami-Dade County records indicate Muloni had been on the street for about a year. He spent two nights at shelters run by the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust, including one at the Salvation Army in June 2014. He left voluntarily, said Homeless Trust Chairman Ron Book.
“We don’t know where he went” Book said.
There’s no date listed for the other night he spent sheltered at the Camillus House. And Book said Muloni ddidn’t fall into the chronically homeless category.
The records show the homeless trust had more than a dozen contacts with Muloni between April and July 2014, but on most occasions he left on his own before getting shelter.
A note from April 2014 said Muloni, who was born in Africa, blamed his homelessness on law enforcement, and that he began to get violent and threatened homeless trust workers. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show one arrest in Orange County in 2012 for trespassing.
A friend of Muloni’s, Roberto Rodriguez, told Miami Herald news partner CBS4 that he witnessed the attack. He said no one had a cellphone to call police quickly enough to save Muloni.
“He had no way of surviving,” Rodriguez said.