A row over racing pigeons ended Thursday night with a Miami man convicted of murder.
Jurors convicted Lazaro Romero, 47, of murdering a man he believed owed him 20 prized birds in a case that shook South Florida’s small but passionate pigeon-racing community.
He was convicted even though he was not the one who stabbed Yoan Vazquez to death in the yard of the man’s Miami home in November 2013. Instead, jurors believed, Romero was the mastermind who got his brother to come along to retrieve the pigeons — and it was his brother who stabbed Vazquez eight times.
The jury deliberated less than two hours before deciding on his guilt. Circuit Judge Diane Ward asked police to immediately take him into custody.
“Have faith,” he told his sobbing family members in the courtroom gallery. “I love you. Be calm.”
Romero, who faces up to life in prison, will be sentenced in the coming weeks.
The verdict came nearly three years after Vazquez was stabbed to death, all while his 6-year-old daughter watched feet away.
Pigeon racing is a sport that has existed for centuries and is popular in circles of Cuba and South Florida.
The birds have a navigation instinct that guides them back to their home lofts. During competitions, birds are released from the back of coops on trucks, sometimes hundreds of miles away; special electronic chips attached to the birds’ legs clock in their times when they return to their coops.
Vazquez, an art framer who hailed from Cuba, met Lazaro Romero through their love of the sport.
At trial, jurors heard that Romero helped Vazquez learn how to immunize and care for the birds.
But when Romero fell on hard times in 2013, losing his house, he sold the 20 breeding pigeons to Vazquez, prosecutors said. Romero later claimed that he lent the birds to his friend.
Either way, Romero began demanding his birds back. Vazquez refused. On the day of the killing, Romero and his brother drove to Vazquez’s Miami home and confronted the man as he tended to his coop in the backyard.
During the confrontation, prosecutor Marie Mato told jurors, both men pounced on Vazquez. Freddy Romero stabbed him to death — and unbeknownst to the brothers, Vazquez’s 6-year-old daughter witnessed a portion of the attack.
The confrontation and attack were captured on surveillance video.
“What difference does it make if these pigeons were loaned or the product of a sale?” Mato said. “Does it make sense that a 31-year-old man with a 6-year-old girl and a wife and family lost his life over some birds?”
Romero, however, insisted that he never planned to hurt Vazquez — and had no idea that his brother would fatally stab his former friend.
“He did not touch Yoan,” defense lawyer Julia Seifer-Smith said. “You can watch that in the video over and over again.”
Freddy Romero did not testify during the trial. He agreed to plead guilty and is serving a 25-year prison sentence.
“Lazaro could not have foreseen that Freddy was going to stab Yoan,” Seifer-Smith said.