Investigators may never know for sure who ordered the assassination of retired Miami police captain Robert Yee.
But DNA and fingerprints on an orange-juice bottle convinced a jury on Friday that Rafael Toirac-Aguilera was the gunman who fatally shot the former cop at a Miami River marina in July 2009.
When the court clerk read the guilty verdict, Yee’s family sobbed in relief. “Thank you, guys,” his widow, Maricel Yee, whispered as jurors – a few of them also teary – filed out of the courtroom.
Toirac-Aguilera, 39, remained stoned face as the judge officially declared him guilty. A sentencing hearing will be held sometime in the coming weeks but the outcome is already decided. Under Florida law, a conviction for first-degree murder carries a mandatory life prison sentence.
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“Justice has been served and now my father can rest in peace,” said daughter Debbie Guzman, herself a police officer with the city of Doral.
“Robert is resting now,” Maricel Yee said.
The verdict came after six hours of deliberations, and capped a legal case that had taken seven years to finally go before a jury. For lawyers, observers and jurors, the case was packed with intrigue.
Yee spent 25 years as a Miami cop, retiring in the mid-1990s after a decorated career that included leading the department’s horse mounted patrol. Back in 2009, he had returned to work, overseeing daily operations at the self-service Hurricane Cove marina on Northwest North River Drive.
A gunman in a silver car pulled up and shot the 61-year-old as he was riding in the golf cart he used to patrol the grounds.
Exactly why Yee was murdered remains a mystery. Prosecutors believe the killer was dispatched by someone upset that the retired officer was telling federal agents about illegal activities at the marina.
The key clue was the Tropicana orange-juice bottle, wrapped in black tape that had been used as a homemade silence. The bottle blew off the barrel of the gun and landed near Yee’s body.
Finger and palm prints, plus DNA on the lip of the bottle, matched Toirac-Aguilera – a New Jersey man who had been arrested in a domestic-violence case there a few months after the shooting.
At trial, Toirac-Aguilera’s ex-girlfriend testified that in July 2009, the two drove a rented Silver Toyota Corolla to Miami. She believed he was coming for some unspecified work. Multiple eye witnesses told police that the gunman drove a silver Corolla.
Prosecutors said phone records also showed Toirac-Aguilera made repeated calls to “burner” phones, disposable cells likely used by the murder’s mastermind.
“He planned it with whoever he planned it,” Levine said. “I don’t have prove the motive. I have to prove he did it with premeditation.”
When detectives confronted Toirac-Aguilera with the DNA evidence, he repeatedly insisted he was never in Florida, prosecutor Gail Levine told the jury in closing arguments on Wednesday.
“He gives absolutely no reasonable hypothesis of innocence,” Levine said. “His lies do him in!”
Toirac-Aguilera’s defense team insisted that no witnesses placed Toirac-Aguilera at the scene and the DNA doesn’t prove he pulled the trigger. They insisted cops rushed to solve the murder of a fallen police officer, which was featured on the national cable reality show The First 48.
“The state has gotten wrong. The police got it wrong,” defense lawyer Stacy Marczak told jurors. “It’s not Rafael Toirac-Aguilera who committed this murder.”
Toirac-Aguilera’s defense said he was only in town to look for work and visit his girlfriend’s mother. They suggest the homemade silencer was just garbage, picked up by someone else who used it to commit the murder.
“It’s not so outlandish or impossible or improbable that someone could have done this,” Marczak said. “This bottle is a moveable object.”