Prosecutors fighting to keep accused rabbi murderer Deandre “Big Boy” Charles behind bars before the trial begins, argued during a bond hearing Wednesday that they found the rabbi's DNA inside a getaway vehicle they linked to the crime scene.
They say Deandre, tall and skinny and 14 at the time of shooting, pulled the trigger of the .40 caliber PT series Taurus firearm that ended Rabbi Joseph Raksin's life in August 2014, as he walked to synagogue around 9 a.m. on a Saturday in Northeast Miami-Dade.
Prosecutor Michael Van Zamft said Deandre and a cohort ran from the scene on Northeast 175th Street and Eighth Court and escaped in a waiting Cadillac SUV driven by another man — a vehicle they believe was at the scene of a nearby robbery earlier that morning. That same Cadillac SUV, prosecutors say, can be seen on video from a surveillance camera at Sable Palm Elementary on the same morning only four blocks from where Raksin was killed.
Police also claim Deandre's DNA was recovered from pieces of the firearm used to kill the rabbi that were left at the scene, though the gun itself has never been recovered. The bond hearing Wednesday was heavily attended by the defendant's family members and relatives of the deceased rabbi, who was 60 when he died. The intensity was so thick, those attending the hearing were forced to make their way inside the second-floor courtroom through metal detectors.
Detective Michael Brajdic said a witness who lives next to where the shooting took place spoke with the rabbi, before the witness’ son dialed 911.
“He said Rabbi Raksin did respond to him,” Brajdic said. “He said he was shocked. He had to move him around to find exactly where the gunshot was. He asked the rabbi who shot him. The rabbi responded, ‘It was two black males.”
The defense says Deandre was at home a few miles away in Miami Gardens at the time of Raksin's murder. Deandre's mother Blair Charles briefly took the stand Wednesday and said she called home the morning Raksin was killed and was told by another child that Deandre was home.
Raksin, on vacation visiting his daughter, was gunned down a block from her home as he was making his way to Bais Menachem Chabad about three blocks away. The case had the tight-knit Jewish community pressing police for answers and raising funds to find the rabbi's killer. In December, during Hannukah and after a grand-jury indictment, Deandre, who attended Norland High School, was picked up and charged with first-degree murder.
The cross-examination by Deandre's defense attorney Adam Goodman was testy. The attorney tried to disqualify Barjdic's DNA testimony by pressing him on an amended report that said no conclusion could be made about whether it was Deandre's DNA found on part of the weapon. Goodman said that report was withheld from the judge.
“It actually excludes him, right?” asked Goodman. “No conclusions can be made.”
Shot back Brajdic: “You're implying I'm lying to the judge. Are you serious? Your client is the only one who came back on that magazine. That's why he's in handcuffs.”
Goodman also questioned the prosecution's claims that a mobile phone found on Deandre was picked up on two separate occasions within minutes of the murder by a cell phone tower near the crime scene. He pressed the detective to explain the other 64 “pings” at the same location during the week before and after Raksin was murdered.
“You have no fingerprints, no eyewitness,” Goodman said. All “you have is flight from a scene.”
Brajdic told Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Jason Bloch that an eyewitness only identified as “NWE” approached him on a bicycle and handed him a folded-up blue sheet of paper with a sketch of the man he believed shot Raksin. That same witness, Barjdic said, later identified Deandre from a photo lineup.
The detective also said an informant who has since died said the crime was committed by three men in a Cadillac SUV, then named them. But Deandre's name, Barjdic said, wasn't included in the informant's list. Pressed by Goodman, Brajdic named the informant as Annex Jean.
When police found the Cadillac a few days later, Deandre was in the car. Prosecutors said his DNA was found on the inside rear passenger door handle, mixed with Raksin's. The hearing continues Thursday morning.