Crime

Mystery of Palm Beach County businessman’s murder leads to Miami Gardens

Somebody gunned down a businessman last month in an upscale neighborhood west of Jupiter, his body left on the sprawling front lawn until it was discovered by a UPS deliveryman.

Now, detectives have found a promising lead — 80 miles south in Miami Gardens.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s detectives recently served a search warrant at the home of a convicted felon whose Mercedes-Benz was believed to have been used in the Oct. 17 murder of 63-year-old David Middleton. That felon, Ronell Antoine Campbell, has not been charged with the killing, but is facing arraignment Friday on a weapons charge.

Campbell, 33, has been in the news before. In 2008, he was arrested in connection with a gunfight that paralyzed a toddler in Little Haiti, a case that he ultimately won.

What, if any, role Campbell played in the Palm Beach County murder remains unknown, but investigators also took his DNA in hopes it might place him on the scene, according to search warrants obtained by the Miami Herald.

He could not be reached for comment and court records do not list a lawyer.

The murder of Middleton was front-page news in Palm Beach County — he was gunned down in an wealthy rural neighborhood called Jupiter Farms, several miles west of Interstate 95.

Middleton was a successful food importer who ran a company called Foodservice Specialty Marketing. He had been involved in several lawsuits over the years.

Most notably, he had just won a $789,000 judgment over a woman, Rose Goretti Destin, who, along with her husband, were alleged to have stolen a large shipment of black beans that Middleton had been storing at their Miami warehouse. The 3,800 bags of black beans, which were to be sold by Middleton to the Pollo Tropical franchise, were later resold in Haiti by Destin and her husband, the lawsuit alleged.

As a result of the judgment, a Miami-Dade judge ordered Destin, of Miami’s Dantor Cargo Shipping, to turn over complete control of her company to Middleton by Oct. 18.

Middleton was killed the day before the deadline. The lawsuit remains in limbo after his death. Middleton was also owed over $300,000 in a 2012 judgment levied against Destin’s husband, Emile.

If investigators believe the lawsuit played any role in Middleton’s daylight assassination, they aren’t saying. The Palm Beach Sheriff’s office declined to comment about the ongoing investigation.

“I’d like to find out who did it,” said Middleton’s civil lawyer, Scott Tuckman. “I hope justice is served.”

Efforts to reach the Destins were not successful. An employee at Dantor said they were not at the office. Their lawyer also did not return calls.

The morning he was killed, Middleton had gone outside to walk his two dogs. A UPS driver delivering packages to his home found the bloodied Middleton, shot several times, lying dead in the grass, face down.

He was discovered around 10:40 a.m.

For detectives, Middleton appeared targeted for death. A neighbor told them that a silver four-door Mercedes was idling directly across from the home some three hours before he was killed — but the windows were tinted and whoever was inside was not visible, according to a search warrant obtained by the Miami Herald. But another neighbor saw the suspicious Mercedes and jotted down the license plate, a break that later helped investigators.

Immediately after gunshots rang out, a third neighbor peeked out of her window and saw the car speeding off.

The 2013 silver Mercedes was immediately traced to Campbell. Police and public records “show no connection between Campbell and the Jupiter, Florida, area,” according to the warrant filed in Miami-Dade circuit court.

What happened next intrigued detectives. That afternoon, around 3:31 p.m., Campbell walked into the Miami Gardens police station to report that his Mercedes’ license plate had been stolen the night before.

The day after the murder, detectives found the Mercedes at the Miami Gardens apartment Campbell shared with his girlfriend. “The car was backed in, effectively concealing the vehicle tag from street view,” according to the warrant.

When police showed up, Campbell — labeled a “person of interest” — ran out the back door, carrying a black handgun that he tossed, possibly into a canal, according to police reports.

He was arrested after swimming across a canal. Divers searched a nearby canal — it is unknown if they found the weapon. But in the bushes near Campbell’s home, officers found his Nike shoes and a clip for a 9mm pistol, the same caliber used in the Middleton murder, according to police reports.

He was arrested on felon charges of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and tampering with evidence. The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office will announce Friday whether it intends to press charges.

Campbell is no stranger to police, having been arrested a slew of times; he’s been convicted of selling cocaine, battery and false imprisonment.

In 2008, he was also charged with illegally carrying a firearm after police said he was involved in the Little Haiti gun battle that left 2-year-old Joshua Garcon paralyzed by a stray bullet. Campbell was not charged with Joshua’s shooting itself, and prosecutors were eventually forced to drop the weapons charge.

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