After years of violent outbursts as a teen, commitments to psychiatric hospitals and stints in jail, Tyrell “Hazel” Robinson stood up in court to hear the verdict on accusations that he kidnapped a North Miami Beach university employee at gunpoint.
The decision last month shocked police and prosecutors, who believed their case was solid. But Robinson’s reprieve didn’t last long. Days later, the 19-year-old walked out of jail, picked up by his longtime friend Christopher “Loko” Francois, who jubilantly broadcast their reunion on Facebook.
The two, along with other friends, flashed hundred-dollar bills, hooted in joy, cursed jailers and lit up what appeared to be a fat marijuana cigarette. “We gotta get you some booty!” one teen hollered in Francois’ video.
Seven hours later, Francois was dead — shot to death, his body dumped at a North Miami Beach children’s playground. A 25-year-old Las Vegas woman, believed to be a prostitute partying with the teens, was found fatally shot inside the group’s red rental car less than a mile away.
Police say Robinson is to blame.
He’s now back in jail, accused of the double murder and facing arraignment later this month in Miami-Dade circuit court. The Facebook Live video is now key evidence against Robinson, according to an arrest warrant obtained by the Miami Herald.
He denied to police having anything to do with the murders. So far, detectives have not identified a motive.
Why Robinson would kill his friend remains baffling — although Robinson once told a psychologist that he and his friends liked to play with guns by pointing them at each other, court records show.
“I’m puzzled. I don’t even know what to say,” his mother, Laquisha James, said when asked about the slaying. She called her son an “awesome kid” who wanted to get his GED and launch a career as a rapper.
It was unclear whether Robinson had an attorney for the murder charges. His attorney on previous cases could not reached for comment.
Robinson has a history of legal and mental troubles. According to court records, Robinson grew up without his father and had long suffered from anger management issues, punching doors, throwing chairs and even throwing rocks at cars. He also claimed to have enjoyed torturing small animals such as lizards, and had been hospitalized for psychiatric treatment several times because of outbursts.
He and his friends also liked to take potshots with guns at passersby from atop roofs, just to scare them, he claimed.
As a child, he was diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, according to defense documents filed in court. At 15, doctors diagnosed him with bipolar disorder. “Due to his mental illness, Mr. Robinson experiences impulse control difficulties which diminish his capacity for insight and judgment,” his lawyer wrote last year.
He was arrested in 2013 after getting into a fight with his brother and resisting police. Later that year, Robinson was accused of burglarizing a home, stealing a laptop and two TVs, a case made off a fingerprint found inside the home.
By the fall of 2014, at the age of 16, Robert was in jail on the kidnapping charge.
The victim was Kimberly Gray Roberts, a marketing expert then working at Union Institute & University, a small private school with campuses across the country, including one in North Miami Beach. She is the wife of Ruban Roberts, who is the criminal and juvenile justice chair of the NAACP’s Miami branch.
On the night of Oct. 30, Roberts was leaving the campus just before 6 p.m. on a clear and sunny day. Somebody approached her wearing what appeared to be a paintball mask. “Initially, I didn’t think too much of it because the next day was Halloween,” Roberts testified at a hearing in May.
The man rushed her, demanding money, a gray handgun pressed against her. “Could you actually feel it on your head?” asked prosecutor Jordana Nahum.
“It was on my forehead; I felt it,” Roberts said.
The gunman forced her into the trunk of her car. She popped the latch and tried to get out. He again held her up, this time without the mask on, demanding her belongings.
“He was very clean-cut, he had just very striking features, and I kept thinking to myself ... he looked like a nice kid; why would somebody like that be doing this,” Roberts testified.
The gunman with distinct light eyes finally let her go. North Miami Beach detectives later found the suspected gun inside a backpack by a nearby bin. It belonged to Robinson’s brother, though investigators believed that Robinson himself was using it that evening.
At the August trial, as she had with police, Roberts identified Robinson, pointing to his distinct eye color.
But Robinson’s defense lawyers suggested that she was mistaken, and cast the police investigation as shoddy in part because no physical evidence placed him at the scene and prints found on the car were never identified.
“It very well could have been Tyrell and he may have been involved in crimes before. But I don’t think we felt confident with the information we had,” said juror Krystyna Ermer. “I feel for [the victim] and I wish we could have done more, but without the evidence, there’s nothing more we could have done.”
On Aug. 19, after less than an hour of jury deliberations, he was acquitted of armed robbery and armed kidnapping.
Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle called the case against him “exceptionally strong with very credible witnesses.”
“While we respect the jury’s verdict, this case exemplifies the difficulties that we, as prosecutors, face on a daily basis,” she said in a statement. “My prosecutors do battle every day to combat the violence in Miami-Dade County and many times the final outcome is out of our hands. In this case, it unfortunately ended in further tragedy.”
That latest tragedy unfolded not long after Robinson, a few days later, posted bond. He was still awaiting trial on the burglary charge and a separate case in which he was accused of throwing a chair at an officer in jail.
When he was released on Aug. 25, he was greeted at the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center by Francois and friends.
The moment was captured on Facebook Live, which allows users to broadcast events in real time. It showed them getting into a rented red Toyota Corolla, and Robinson putting on a gray T-shirt adorned with an American flag.
Friends later told police they spent that night celebrating with friends. Another photo later emerged on social media showing the crew together, Francois posing on a hoverboard, holding the pistol believed to have killed him. In the middle of the snapshot is Robinson, wearing the same T-shirt and sandals.
The murder investigation started early the next morning with a 911 call to report that a red Corolla, its engine running, was parked in front of a home on the the 17600 block of Northeast Eighth Place. Inside, a Miami-Dade patrol officer found the body of Christy Elisarraras, 25, who had been shot to death in the back seat.
The empty driver’s seat, where Francois is believed to have been shot, was also soaked in blood.
His body was found less than a mile away, at a children’s playground across the Snake Creek Canal. North Miami Beach detectives found surveillance footage showing the red Toyota driving away from the playground, according to an arrest warrant.
More surveillance footage showed Robinson, with a gun in his hand, walking away from the abandoned red car. He is wearing the same gray American flag T-shirt depicted on the Facebook Live video, according to the arrest warrant.
More footage showed what “appears to be blood stains on the back of the gray t-shirt,” Miami-Dade Detective David Denmark wrote in the warrant.