The suspected ringleader in the vicious machete murder of a Homestead Job Corps student pleaded not guilty Tuesday.
Kaheem Arbelo, 20, made his first appearance before the Miami-Dade judge who will preside over his case. He and three others have been charged in the June killing of 17-year-old Jose Amaya Guardado, whose horrific killing made headlines across the country.
Tall and lanky, the goateed Arbelo did not speak as he stood next his court-appointed attorney, Kellie Peterson, who entered the not-guilty plea on his behalf.
He is charged with second-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and four counts of tampering with a witness or victim. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda set an Oct. 19 trial date, which will certainly be pushed back as lawyers in the case begin to pore over the state’s evidence.
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Prosecutors could also decide to present the case to a grand jury for a first-degree murder indictment, which would make the defendants eligible for the death penalty.
According to Miami-Dade police, Arbelo, Christian Colon and Jonathan Lucas all confessed to luring Jose into the woods near the government-run residential school in South Miami-Dade.
The fellow students “ambushed the victim,” hacking him so many times with the machete that his “face caved in,” according to an arrest report. The mortally wounded teen was forced to lie in a shallow grave before the final blows were inflicted.
A fourth student, Desiray Strickland, 18, has also been jailed and charged in the murder.
Miami-Dade say Strickland grew upset because she missed the first series of machete strikes when she went into the woods to urinate. After cleaning up the crime scene, she and Arbelo allegedly had sex in the woods before returning to the Job Corps campus.
Jose went missing for several days before his brother found his body buried in the shallow grave not far from the campus.
Law enforcement sources have described the students as part of a group of bullies within the school, which is run by the U.S. Department of Labor. Investigators believe the killing may have stemmed from a debt that the victim owed to Arbelo.
The school helps young people get their high school diplomas and learn job skills ranging from masonry to office administration. Job Corps, designed for at-risk students between the ages of 16 and 24, runs 125 campuses across the country.