Five ex-students could now face the death penalty after a grand jury on Wednesday indicted them for the savage machete murder of 17-year-old Jose Amaya Guardado, whose body was found buried in a shallow grave in the woods of South Miami-Dade.
Kaheem Arbelo, Desiray Strickland, Christian Colon, Jonathan Lucas and Joseph Michael Cabrera — all former students of Homestead Job Corps — are now charged with first-degree murder.
All are in custody in Miami-Dade, except for Cabrera, who remains jailed in Missouri awaiting extradition to Florida.
Detectives say Arbelo, Strickland and the others conspired for two weeks to kill Guardado, a fellow student at the federally run residential school for at-risk youth. Law enforcement sources have told the Miami Herald that the killing may have stemmed from a debt owed to Arbelo, 20, and that the accused students were known as bullies at the campus.
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Guardado vanished from the Homestead campus in June. His brother found him buried in the grave in the woods near the campus. He had been hacked so viciously that “his face caved in,” according to a police report.
According to a police report, Strickland and Arbelo had sex in the woods after the group cleaned up the crime scene and buried the dead teen.
The shocking murder has drawn increased scrutiny on Job Corps, which operates 125 campuses across the country and falls under the U.S. Department of Labor. The program helps at-risk people between the ages of 16 and 24 earn their high-school degrees and learn vocational skills.
After the arrests, federal authorities suspended fall classes at the Homestead campus as they review operating procedures at the school.