In his mother’s eyes, 15-year-old Marc Wabafiyebazu is a sweet shy kid with a learning disability and an attachment to his older brother.
“Marc is the son every parent would want to have,” Canadian diplomat Roxanne Dubé said, choking up as her gangly, baby-faced son — handcuffed and seated at the lawyers’ table in Miami court — wiped away tears.
But that older brother, 17-year-old Jean, shot to death in a bloody marijuana rip-off in Miami, admittedly had more complex problems. Before moving from Ottawa to Miami in February when his mother assumed her post, Jean had begun hanging out with people from outside his prestigious private French-Canadian school.
Jean had been arrested once for drug possession in Canada, and had several contacts there with police, who often stopped the bi-racial teen for driving his mother’s BMW. He also made no secret about ambitions that now may explain his thirst to sell drugs. “He always said he was going to be rich and be rich quickly,” Dubé said.
Dubé, Canada’s consul general in Miami, finally spoke publicly Friday, taking the witness stand on behalf of Marc, who is accused of participating in the March 30 attempted armed robbery that left his older brother and another teen dead inside a Miami apartment.
Prosecutors say Marc acted as a “lookout” or a possible getaway driver, while pistol-toting Jean went inside to steal two pounds of marijuana. One witness also said Jean, accompanied by Marc, bought two pounds of marijuana for more than $4,000 in two earlier drug deals weeks before the shootout.
Defense lawyers say Marc was an unwitting tag-along to a “troubled older brother.” Friday’s testimony marked the second day of a bail hearing for Marc, who remains jailed.
A veteran diplomat, Dubé was polished on the stand, showing measured emotion and promising her son would not flee the country if he were to be released before trial. “He would be a criminal forever,” she said. “My diplomatic career would be over.”
Dubé added: “I am absolutely convinced of Marc’s innocence.”
Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Teresa Mary Pooler will not rule on whether Marc should remain in jail until Wednesday.
Under Florida law, anyone who commits certain felonies in which someone dies — in Marc’s case, an alleged attempted armed robbery — can be charged with felony murder.
Dubé, who is currently on a leave of absence from her $160,000-a-year job, spoke glowingly about her two sons. But on cross examination, she admitted being caught off guard by many details that have since emerged about her sons — like where Jean got the money to buy drugs.
“Were you aware they had firearms?” prosecutor Marie Mato said.
“No,” Dubé said, shaking her heard.
“Do you have any idea where they would have gotten those?” Mato asked.
Dubé had no idea. She also was unaware Jean had eight absences from Gulliver High, his private Miami school.
On the day of the shooting, Jean and Marc told her they had no school because it was “senior skip” day — even though Marc was only a freshman at Palmetto High. They also claimed they were going to a movie.
Marc had marijuana leaf art on his belt that day. “If I saw marijuana leaves, I wouldn’t have recognized it,” she admitted.
The diplomat was not the only key witness to take the stand Friday. In the morning, Miami Police Officer Juan Velez told the judge that Marc, while being driven to a juvenile detention center, seemed somber after earlier outbursts in the homicide interrogation room.
The soft-spoken newbie cop offered him words of wisdom. “It’s unfortunate his brother died. Sometimes it takes bad things to happen so he could better his life,” Velez recalled saying. “Like words to motivate him, realize he doesn’t have to follow in the same footsteps.”
Suddenly soothed, Marc admitted that he and Jean had planned all along to rip off the drug dealers. “He tells me his brother was smart and they had done this on numerous occasions,” Velez said.
Defense lawyer Curt Obront asked Velez, who was only a transport officer that day, why he never advised Marc about his right to remain silent. “I’m not the arresting officer,” Velez said.
Obront pressed him on whether he was actually “interrogating” the teen. “You stood mute and said nothing this entire conversation?”
“It was a quick conversation,” Velez said.
As for his comforting pep talk to a juvenile suspect, Judge Pooler chimed in. “What in the world would possess you do that?” she asked.
“Honestly, I felt bad. He just saw his brother die,” Velez said. “I just tried to give him encouraging words.”