A hulking handyman named Rafael Andres stood accused of beating, stabbing and strangling a West Miami-Dade waitress with a cord from a rice cooker.
Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the evidence against Andres fit too perfectly for him to walk free.
His DNA was on a bloody wash cloth found near the body of 31-year-old Yvette Fariñas. A neighbor identified Andres, holding a gas can, leaving the home just before the crime scene went up in flames.
And in the hours after Fariñas’ vicious death in January 2005, Andres used her ATM card to withdraw cash, buy goods at The Home Depot, fuel up his van and pay for a stay at the Miccosukee Resort and Casino.
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“These are not coincidences,” prosecutor Gail Levine told jurors this week. “This is evidence of guilt.”
Jurors agreed. After some nine hours of deliberations over three days, jurors on Wednesday convicted Andres of first-degree murder.
“After so many years, there is justice,” said the slain woman’s father, Rene Fariñas, 64. “That’s the fundamental thing we wanted — and that this killer didn’t remain on the streets.”
In court, Fariñas’ mother, father and sister wept at the news. Seated on the opposite side of the gallery, so did Andres’ family.
Andres, wearing a giant blue button-up sweater and slacks, furrowed his eyebrows. Otherwise, he showed no emotion as he shuffled on a cane, escorted by corrections officers, back into the bowels of Miami-Dade’s criminal courthouse.
Now, Andres faces the death penalty. His sentencing hearing will be held sometime in the coming weeks.
His defense team, which unsuccessfully argued that Andres was guilty of only swiping her ATM card, must now persuade the same jury to spare his life. That may not be an easy task. Andres, 50, already has another murder conviction.
Back in 1987, Andres beat and fatally stabbed Linda Azcarreta, 32, inside a Flagami home. Andres pleaded guilty and agreed to serve nine years in prison.
He wound up serving just over one year in prison. His later convictions also include grand theft and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.
Back in January 2005, Andres had been hired to help renovate a home in the 7300 block of Southwest 12th Street. He was not a licensed contractor and appeared overwhelmed with the work.
Fariñas and her boyfriend lived in an efficiency attached to the house. She and her small family arrived in Miami from Cuba in 1999. Fariñas worked at La Carreta eatery at Miami International Airport.
She was interviewing to become a federal security officer at the airport. One day, Fariñas hoped to also start a coin-laundry business.
“My daughter had a lot of dreams and had studied,” said mother Luisa Moya, 63. “In five years, she was going to become a citizen. And that man destroyed that.”
That morning, Fariñas’ boyfriend left at dawn for his job delivering milk crates across South Florida. Andres, using a spare key to the efficiency, entered and beat her until she gave up her pin code, prosecutors said.
Andres plunged a blade “into her chest, again and again and again,” Levine said. Then, he wrapped the rice-cooker cord around her neck.
“His 260 pounds overpowers her and he leaves her to die in her own blood,” Levine said.
Miami-Dade detectives took one year to build their case. The crime even appeared on the national TV show America’s Most Wanted.
Ultimately, cellphone records tied Andres geographically to the crime scene. Investigators found traces of gasoline on his sneakers. A gas-can lid fit perfectly to a lidless container found at his home. His van also was found dumped in rural West Miami-Dade.
In all, Andres successfully withdrew or charged $1,676 in stolen money.
Defense attorneys didn’t hide from the ATM card theft. Their reasoning: Andres couldn’t have killed Fariñas because he so openly used the account.
“We fully admit he used her card. but the evidence has not shown when he obtained it, how he obtained it and you cannot speculate on that,” Assistant Public Defender Edith Georgi told the jury.
Andres’ defense team attacked the reliability of the neighbor who identified Andres, arguing that she couldn’t have fully seen his face through a fence. The van could have been stolen from the Miccosukee resort.
And the DNA openly proved one thing: that Andres had been in the efficiency, doing work, sometime in the days before the slaying.
“DNA doesn’t tell time,” Georgi said.