A Miami man who fatally shot popular South Beach chef Jim Breen during a robbery — then spent 16 years on the lam — pleaded guilty Monday and agreed to a 22-year prison sentence.
At the time, the case drew intense headlines in South Florida. Breen’s wife was 7 months pregnant, and fundraisers helped raise more than $20,000 for the widow.
Breen was a 27-year-old chef at the Four One One restaurant. He had a rich love of Haitian culture. After his murder, Little Haiti's Pierre Toussaint Catholic Center raised $1,465 for the widow.
In July 1993, he had given a ride home to a Little Haiti dishwasher who had missed his bus.
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But afterward, Breen stopped on the 500 block of Northeast 63rd Street to buy cocaine. That’s when drug dealer Chris Hayes walked up to the driver’s side window and tried to snatch $10 from Breen, who resisted.
Hayes fired once. The bullet pierced Breen’s heart.
Mortally wounded, the chef drove off onto Biscayne Boulevard. He hit the curb and barreled through a bottle brush tree before stopping against a palm tree.
Detectives found the crumpled $10 bill on the floor of the passenger's side.
Hayes’ accomplice, Fenel Baptiste, was arrested and later convicted of manslaughter.
But Hayes was a fugitive until 2009, when he was stopped by police in New Jersey; officers saw that he had an arrest warrant outstanding and held him for Miami police.
Hayes pleaded guilty to robbery and second-degree murder.
Breen’s widow, Stacy Breen, appeared in court Monday accompanied by the case’s lead detective, Eunice Cooper, who now heads the department’s homicide unit. Stacy Breen told Hayes that the murder shattered her family.
“I lost trust. I also lost a sense of who my husband was. I did not know the Jim Breen who would put his life in danger to buy drugs,” she told Hayes.
But the son he never knew, Connor Breen, 20, understands the positive of his father’s life, she said.
Connor Breen, who boasts his father’s curly hair and trademark left eyebrow raise, is now a college student studying bio chemistry and neuroscience.
Breen’s books on Haitian culture also line the shelves of their home. And Connor Breen took his father’s Japanese-style dishes with him to school, she said.