A Miami man will serve 25 years in prison for killing a young father in a fight over prized racing pigeons.
Freddy Romero, 47, pleaded guilty Thursday to murdering Yoan Vazquez, 32, whose stabbing death cast a spotlight into the competitive world of South Florida pigeon racing.
The sport of racing homing pigeons, which possess navigation instincts that guide them back to their home lofts, has been around for centuries. Florida is a hub for pigeon racing, with many in Miami having bred and trained birds in Cuba. In South Florida, a variant is also practiced — palomo de conquista or conquest pigeoning — in which the goal is for a male bird to woo and lure home a female. But racing the birds remains the most popular and demanding pursuit.
Vazquez was an avid pigeon racer who learned the sport in Cuba, and picked it up in Miami after forging a career framing art at a Little Havana gallery. He was unarmed when he was stabbed to death behind his home. The slaying took place in front of his 6-year-old daughter.
“All this for pigeons,” Carlos Rivero, Vazquez’s father-in-law, said Thursday after the hearing. “It should have never happened.”
Prosecutors said Romero and his brother, Lazaro Romero, were angry with Vazquez over the ownership of 10 expensive breeding pigeons. In November 2013, the two drove to Vazquez’s Flagami home and confronted him in the back yard, demanding that he return the pigeons that had once been given to him by Lazaro.
In the confrontation, Freddy Romero stabbed Vazquez to death. Both men claimed self-defense.
“My brother starts to talk to him. They start to argue. Then he [Vazquez] went to take out a knife,” Freddy Romero claimed in videotaped police interviews. He told detectives that he then grabbed Vazquez’s hands — and that Vazquez must have stabbed himself during the scuffle.
Even on Thursday, as he was pleading guilty, Freddy Romero still insisted that Vazquez was reaching for a knife. “I’m not guilty, but if I go to trial, it’ll be worse,” he said, before finally admitting he hadn’t been truthful with police.
Meanwhile, Lazaro Romero insisted that he saw Vazquez only reach for something toward his waistband. He also insisted that he was the one who had been wronged by a fellow racer refusing to return valuable birds.
“How good I was with him and look how he’s treating me,” said Lazaro Romero.
What the brothers did not know, prosecutors said, is that Vazquez’s young daughter was watching — along with a video surveillance camera. Police say both the girl and video painted a completely different version of events: It was Freddy Romero who stabbed an unarmed Vazquez.
Lazaro Romero is still awaiting trial.