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Revenge a possible motive in slaying

James Duarte was a devoted son, a successful sales manager, an aspiring family man.

Seemingly without an enemy in the world and a bright future assured, what could Duarte, 38, possibly have done to provoke the ending he met, his friends and relatives wondered Tuesday, one day after a rifle-toting killer ambushed him outside his North Miami Beach office.

"This is very confusing, " said Raquel Perea, Duarte's cousin. "He was a happy person. He had a lot of good friends. He was an outgoing guy. When they told me what happened, I thought it was a joke."

But there was no humor in the actions of the killer, who with single-minded efficiency followed Duarte through a parking lot and gunned him down as he ran for his life.

Police said the killer's cold-blooded deliberateness indicates he might have been seeking revenge.

The slaying happened as Duarte - a Miami Lakes High School alumnus and the Latin America sales manager for Audiovox, a wireless communications and electronics manufacturer - left his office at the Senator Executive and Law Center, 13899 Biscayne Blvd., at about 6 p.m. Monday.

Duarte was standing by his car when a heavyset man started shooting from inside a white Ford Taurus, said North Miami Beach Sgt. Warren Hardison.

As Duarte fled through the parking lot, the car followed, his killer shooting at him from as close as 10 feet the whole time.

Duarte dropped his keys. He dropped a bag. He fell dead near a wall, struck several times in the upper body and once in the head, Hardison said. The killer left without stealing anything.

Police Chief Bill Berger called the methodology "overkill" because such a high number of bullets were fired at close range, suggesting the murderer wanted to inflict pain as well as to kill. "That indicates it's a personal crime, often a purposeful killing for vengeance, " he said.

Duarte's friends and colleagues were dumbfounded, saying there could not have been a more unlikely target. They said he wasn't a hothead and, because he spent so much time traveling in his high-powered job, he was hardly in Miami enough to have problems with anyone.

Duarte did have a way with women, however. Three of his friends said Duarte was eager to settle down to family life after a series of relationships, sometimes with more than one woman at a time - and once with a married woman.

Duarte had a new girlfriend and things were going well, but longtime friend George Maggi still speculated whether romance led to his buddy's death."Either there's a horrible mistaken-identity case here or the only other thing I can think of is some jealous ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, " said Maggi, who went to high school with Duarte.

Asked if the killer could be a jealous ex, Hardison, the police spokesman, said, "Absolutely, and that's a theory that we are looking at."

Duarte sold mobile electronics, including car stereos and security systems, to retailers. He was in the process of opening a new Audiovox manufacturing facility in Brazil and would have been there when he was killed but for a paperwork problem, Maggi said.

Audiovox, based in Hauppauge, N.Y., did not return repeated phone calls. But Gary Cohen, a friend and former colleague of Duarte's from Huntington Beach, Calif., said he called and spoke with Duarte's boss on Tuesday.

"James was an incredibly well-liked person, " Cohen said. "Because this has hit the news, the office has absolutely been inundated with inquiries. Even people from other countries who've done business with him are calling there hoping it's the wrong James Duarte they heard about."

Cohen, his voice choked with emotion, said Duarte was a "dynamic salesman" with "a great disposition." Just last month, Duarte escorted Cohen's daughter around Miami for a night before she left on a cruise.

At Duarte's Winston Towers condo building in Sunny Isles Beach, he was known as a pleasant man who always took time to say hello.

"He was a very nice gentleman, very soft-spoken, " said office clerk Flo Margolies. "I can't believe it."

Duarte was especially dedicated to his mother, Olga Ortiz, a nurse's aide who used to live with him, friends said. He has a younger sister, Elizabeth. "The three of them were very, very close, " said Perea, their cousin, who was among grieving relatives gathered at the Ortiz home Tuesday. "He was like the center of the union, so they're very, very sad."

Duarte's wake is scheduled for 5 p.m. to midnight Thursday, at the Van Orsdel Funeral Home, 14990 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami. A Mass will be held at 8 p.m. In accordance with his wishes, Duarte will be cremated.

"My buddy, " Cohen said, letting out a long sigh. "I hope they catch the guy who did it so he can't do it again and tear another family apart."

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