Ezell Finklea didn’t have to help.
When the military veteran witnessed a murder in Liberty City, Finklea cooperated with law enforcement, identifying his neighbor as the killer. Even when the suspected killer was believed to have broken into his home and attacked him, Finklea refused to back down, testifying at hearings or depositions at least seven times over the years.
But on the eve of the trial itself, Finklea was returning from buying a chicken dinner Saturday night when an unknown gunman walked up to his car on Northwest 30th Avenue, firing over a dozen shots.
The volley of bullets killed Finklea, 61, and his friend, Ira Williams, 70.
Miami-Dade homicide detectives are now hunting for the gunman — and trying to figure out if the ambush was committed to silence Finklea. The shooting stunned Miami-Dade prosecutors, who had been selecting a jury for the accused killer, Julio Morris, 30.
On Monday, a judge agreed to postpone the trial.
“He had to testify more than any witness I’ve ever had because we had a lot of different hearings in this case,” said Assistant State Attorney Tiffany Finger, who is prosecuting Morris. “He was very brave and it’s a great loss. He cooperated at the expense of his own safety.”
Morris’ defense attorney declined to comment.
Because of earlier threats to Finklea’s life, the state had relocated him out of the neighborhood. But Finklea eventually left the relocation program, returning to Liberty City after deciding he did not want to stay away from his home.
Finklea grew up in Northwest Miami-Dade and joined the U.S. Army Special Forces at age 18, serving for nearly a decade, according to his family.
After his service was complete, he and his father, Ezell Finklea Sr., ran a successful janitorial business, Allied Cleaning Company of Florida. The younger Finklea — an avid baseball fan — also drove trucks for a living.
His life changed on April 18, 2012, when he witnessed the murder of Jazzmon Parker, 29.
Police say Morris and another man, Clifton Dickson, opened fire on Parker outside a house at 2952 NW 63rd Street. The motive was unclear but was believed to be drug related — investigators suspected Dickson and Morris were drug dealers.
Finklea told police he was changing the locks of a nearby house when he saw Morris take a handgun from Dickson and finish off the wounded man in the middle of the street.
Morris was not a stranger — he lived next to Finklea, and the two knew each other from the neighborhood.
Eight days after the murder, with Morris and Dickson still on the lam, Finklea was in his bedroom when he heard noises in the living room. He grabbed a knife and stepped into the hallway.
According to a police report, Morris and Dickson had busted into the home armed with a gun. Morris ordered Finklea to drop the knife — which he did. But Finklea tried to wrestle the gun away. A struggle ensued.
Police said Morris punched and kicked Finklea, stabbing him several times with shards of glass from a glass table that broke during the scuffle. The intruder took a flat-screen television and dropped it on Finklea before leaving.
Morris and Dickson were eventually arrested and charged with the murder and the break-in.
That’s not all. Morris’ cousin, Deron Morris, was arrested for witness tampering after showing up at Finklea’s home and threatening him. Deron Morris wound up serving 364 days in jail.
Dickson’s girlfriend was also arrested for witness tampering.
According to police, Marquetta Boyd showed up at Finklea’s house and offered him money to drop his testimony. She was accompanied by a private investigator hired by Dickson’s attorney, Allen Soven.
Boyd, the mother of Dickson’s four children, entered a “pretrial intervention” program for first-time offenders and the charge was eventually dropped. Dickson wound up getting acquitted of the murder, despite Finklea’s testimony.
Jury selection began last week in Morris’ murder case, and Finklea was expected to testify sometime this week.
But on Saturday night, Finklea and Williams were driving up Northwest 30th Avenue when over a dozen shots rang out. A 2003 silver Honda Accord was found parked on the swale of a home at 6290 NW 30th Ave.
A neighbor reported an “unknown male” running from the scene.
As detectives work to solve the murder, prosecutors have no plans of dropping the case against Morris. Finklea’s prior testimony could be read to the jury. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Alberto Milian rescheduled the trial for March.
Anyone with information on the murder of Ezell Finklea can call Miami-Dade’s homicide bureau at 305-471-2400, or Miami-Dade CrimeStoppers at 305-471-TIPS.