A glimpse of S. Florida only few get to see

01/26/2014 10:23 AM

09/28/2014 1:40 AM

When Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle makes his daily rounds at the criminal courthouse in downtown Miami, digging through files and talking to attorneys, he finds a window into the human condition of South Florida.

Often, those same stories also give readers a glimpse of parts of South Florida many of us never get to see.

At first, Ovalle’s Sunday story may appear as another tragic but all-too-familiar crime: a stabbing during a dispute. Yet in this case, the disagreement that led to Yoan Vazquez’s death centered around 10 prized breeding birds used in Miami’s competitive world of pigeon racing.

“I had no idea that pigeon racing even existed, not just here but elsewhere,” Ovalle said. “It is an interesting slice of Miami that many people may not know exists.”

It is also a “quintessential Miami story,” Ovalle said — the success story of one Cuban immigrant, on the one hand, and the financial downward spiral of another. “You have so many layers and threads.”

Ovalle has been covering the criminal court system for five years. Before that, he was the Miami Herald’s police reporter. His career trajectory has allowed him to witness the full judicial course of some of the the area’s most notorious cases — as well as the chance to shine a spotlight on long-forgotten cases.

Earlier this month, Ovalle reported the exection of Thomas Knight for the brutal 1974 murders of a Bay Harbor Islands couple and a prison guard.

“Those family members have been suffering with that since before I was born,” said Ovalle, 34. “The family members thanked me for being there to tell their story because I was the only one who was covering it. It was a case many people didn't remember.”

However, during the course of his career, he also has heard a complaint raised by some readers who say that the Miami Herald focuses too much on crime.

“Let’s face it,” he said. “A crime story can be boiled down to the rawest human emotion — greed, lust, jealousy. I think it's important to tell these stories. Miami is not just glitz and glamour. There is a lot of human tragedy that tells a very powerful story about our community.”

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