Crime

Video shows Norland High teacher arriving to home of accused killer shortly before murder

Norland High teacher Kameela Russell pulled her black Audi into the driveway at the Miami Gardens home of her longtime friend, fellow educator Ernest Roberts. It was May 15, 6:03 p.m.

That was the last time she was seen alive. It was not a live eyewitness, but a security camera from a neighbor’s house across the street that captured the last time she was seen in public.

Miami-Dade prosecutors on Wednesday released the footage that is crucial evidence in the death-penalty case against Roberts, a former assistant principal at Norland who is charged with her murder.

Roberts, 39, has pleaded not guilty and remains jailed while awaiting trial for first-degree murder. The video also shows someone who prosecutors believe is Roberts driving Russell’s Audi away, presumably to ditch the vehicle.

But his defense attorney, Rod Vereen, said the video clips prove nothing — and suggested it was not Roberts, but a mysterious third person, driving her car away.

“The videos are so pixelated that you can’t tell who they are,” said Vereen, who declined to say who that person might be.

Roberts is accused of fatally beating Russell, a teacher and test proctor who vanished on May 15, after failing to pick up her daughter at a relative’s home in Miami Gardens.

Her body was found days later in a canal near Roberts’ home. An autopsy revealed Russell died of blunt-force trauma.

For Miami Gardens homicide detectives, the neighbor’s video proved key in establishing a timeline of Roberts’ and Russell’s movements on May 15.

The video shows that Roberts pulled into his home at 1525 NW 203rd St. at 5:09 p.m. He is seen coming in and out of the house. According to an arrest warrant, 39 minutes later, Roberts shut off his own security camera system — which led prosecutors to believe he planned the murder.

Police said the two were exchanging phone calls for a few minutes before Russell arrived at 6:03 p.m. She got out of the car, wearing a black T-shirt, dark jogging pants and dark tennis shoes. She entered the house.

Whatever happened inside, it was over pretty quickly. At 6:54 p.m., the video shows that someone police say is Roberts exited his house, got into her Audi and backed it up close to the front door. He opened the trunk and was seen coming and going to the trunk several times — police believe he was loading her body inside the car.

“At no time is [Russell] seen exiting Roberts’ residence,” according to the arrest warrant,

At 7:10 p.m., police said, the video shows that Roberts got into Russell’s Audi and drove off, to ditch the car, authorities say. Footage shows Roberts later returning home on foot later that night, according to the warrant — something defense lawyer Vereen disputes.

Vereen said he believes Roberts was not the man seen in the Audi, never left his house, and that wasn’t him seen returning on foot.

“The timeline the police put together is not accurate,” he said.

Miami Gardens police say they cracked the case because Roberts tried enlisting the help of a school janitor to get rid of her car, even penning him a note and leaving it for him hidden inside a cabinet at Linda Lentin K-8 Center in North Miami, where he’d been most recently working. The janitor immediately reported him to police.

Russell’s Audi was discovered at a gas station a few miles from his home. Police investigators say they found Russell’s blood — confirmed through a DNA test — on an Amazon box inside Roberts’ bedroom. The room had also been thoroughly cleaned, although a mop appeared to have been stained with blood.

But Vereen said the police DNA tests help his client because they also show other blood evidence in the house that indicates the presence of an unidentified man and woman.

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