Three mask-wearing robbers burst into a Homestead credit union, terrorizing customers before one gunman fatally shot security guard Raymond Stanisky, a popular retired Miami-Dade police officer.
The case remained unsolved for an agonizing 13 years until last year, when investigators locked down the key interview with a prison informant that helped them indict the suspected gunmen.
But now, Miami-Dade prosecutors have dropped the case against two of three men after the informant, Jerval Fluellen, claimed he lied and the facts of the murder “were fed” to him.
“When we indicted the three persons, the detectives and the state believed we had indicted the correct people,” said prosecutor Michael Von Zamft. “We still feel that way, but unfortunately, based upon what has occurred, now we cannot prove it.”
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The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office late last month charged Fluellen, who is already serving 15 years in federal prison for an unrelated crime, with two counts of perjury. He is now awaiting trial.
“It illustrates a real danger in the reliability of our justice system when the government relies on nothing but snitch testimony without significant corroboration,” said Terry Lenamon, the lawyer for Shannon Dawson, one of the men who had been indicted for Stanisky’s murder.
It was Dawson himself who started the strange legal episode after coming forward to claim he was one of the men involved in the murder. It was an ill-advised scheme to try to shave time off a 35-year federal prison sentence he’s serving, his lawyers insist.
The man accused of pulling the trigger, Stephon Hart, won’t be getting out of prison despite prosecutors dropping the murder charge: He’s doing a life sentence for a home-invasion robbery in Sarasota.
At the time, the Stanisky murder was big news.
Stanisky, a powerfully built native of Pennsylvania, joined Dade police in 1960, and spent much of his career hunting criminals as part of the warrants division. He retired in 1985, working various jobs in the years up until his death.
On Oct. 8, 1999, he was working security at a branch of the Dade County School Employees Federal Credit Union, 16460 SW 304th St. Around 10 a.m. three armed men dressed in black and wearing masks burst in
Customers began screaming when Stanisky, who was in another part of the office, rushed in and scared off the trio. The gang had no time to get money and they ran out, hopping into a stolen green 1993 Honda Accord in the parking lot.
Stanisky went after them. In the gunfight that followed, he was killed by one bullet to the head just outside the credit union door.
The murder prompted a massive police response. The stolen car was later found abandoned, but despite a furious investigation, no one was charged.
“The detectives put maximum effort into that case and continued to do so over the years,” said retired Miami-Dade Police Director Jim Loftus, then a captain in the homicide bureau. “Even though he was retired from the department, he was still considered to be one of us.”
The break in the case came in 2011 when Dawson, serving a 35-year federal prison term for cocaine trafficking, claimed he was one of the men involved in the heist.
Inmates in federal custody can get sentence reductions in exchange for cooperating with law enforcement. Critics say the system spurs federal inmates to spin lies and even sell information to other inmates, who in turn peddle it to authorities.
In a meeting with detectives, Dawson named two others involved: Desmar Akins and Hart, the alleged triggerman. He also named a fellow inmate at a Miami federal prison who had supposedly been told of the murder: Fluellen, serving 15 years on a weapons charge.
Lenamon, the lawyer, said Dawson and Fluellen concocted the scheme together while in prison.
But Dawson changed his mind and decided not to cooperate against Hart and Akins, who had nothing to do with the crime, Lenamon said,
So homicide detectives, in May 2011 and again one year later, interviewed Fluellen, who wrote out a detailed statement implicating Dawson, Hart and Akins. Based almost exclusively on his statement, the three men were indicted for first-degree murder and attempted armed robbery. All three faced the death penalty.
In a surprise twist, on the eve of trial in June, Akins pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit armed robbery in exchange for three years of prison, even though his lawyer said he is innocent. The reason: Akins is doing 10 years state prison for an unrelated crime.
The murder charge was dropped. And his sentence in the Stanisky case will be over long before he gets out of prison.
“It’s pretty clear that my client was telling me the truth, that he had nothing to do with it,” said Akins’ attorney, Robert White. “But the risk in going to trial was great, and there was no additional pain. It was truly a plea of convenience.”
As for Fluellen, he was eventually transported to a Miami-Dade jail from federal custody. He told Miami-Dade detectives that he had lied about the whole case.
“Fluellen was deposed under oath and said that everything he said in previous statements was a lie and that none of it was true, that the information had been given to him by another person and he received some form of payment to convey these lies,” prosecutor Von Zamft wrote in a final memo on the case.
So prosecutors had no choice but to drop the murder charges against the remaining two men.
According to his attorney, Dawson concocted the scheme n prison and paid money to someone in the Federal Detention Center for details of the Stanisky case. But Lenamon could not say who gave Dawson the info, or why he named Hart as the shooter.
“It’s clear the information was floating around the detention center,” Lenamon said.