Twelve years later, the memories remain fresh, the grief of their murders as raw as ever.
Coral Gables Dr. Paul Jarrett, 82, cracking jokes, running marathons, walking every morning to see the sunrise over Biscayne Bay before heading to work as a psychiatrist. His son, Gregg Jarrett, 47, fishing on vacations, caring for his own son, embarking on a second career as a registered nurse.
“Our family will never see, hear or touch Paul and Gregg again. These proceedings today only close one page, or a chapter, in this story,” Aleta Jarrett-Cortiñas, the doctor’s daughter, told a judge on Thursday.
“Juan Carlos Fernandez slammed shut all the pages in the life of Paul and Gregg. But I try to drown all of this out. I’m the luckiest person in the world. I have boatloads of wonderful memories.”
Thursday’s court hearing gave some measure of closure as Fernandez, 45, the last of the killers, pleaded guilty to the execution-style murder that rocked Coral Gables back in July 2003. He will serve 30 years in prison.
Fernandez, a small man with thick-rimmed black glasses, nervously shifted back and forth as he stood shackled in the defendant’s box.
“I can’t bring them back but I apologize. I beg for forgiveness. I ask the family to pray for me, in the name of Christ,” Fernandez said in Spanish.
His plea means the end of a 12-year legal saga that — after two trials and countless court hearings — left the Jarrett family frustrated.
Paul and Gregg Jarrett were shot to death inside their Coral Gables home as they slept. The break-in was orchestrated by Maria Catabay, the doctor’s former office manager. Prosecutors said she dispatched her boyfriend, Fernandez, to the Jarretts' house to retrieve a letter in which she admitted embezzling from her boss.
Jose Barco, one of the intruders recruited by Fernandez, was convicted at trial and is serving life in prison. Catabay, Fernandez’s one-time girlfriend, is serving 30 years behind bars for setting up the burglary.
Barco and Fernandez each blamed each other for the actual shooting.
Bringing Fernandez to justice was an ordeal. He suffered from mental illness and questions of his mental competence were a long-running issue for the judges. He has spent the majority of the past decade in a secure psychiatric hospital.
At trial, Fernandez would have tried to argue that his fragile mental state, exacerbated by a brain injury suffered during a fall from a roof, left him vulnerable.
“He was coerced into doing this. We felt he would have been acquitted of the murder,” said defense attorney Bruce Fleisher.
But overcoming the burglary charge would have been much more difficult.
For Aleta Jarrett-Cortiñas, the 30 years in prison was acceptable.
“I will continue to pray for you,” Jarrett-Cortiñas told Fernandez. “It shouldn’t take 12 years to get to this. I’m so happy that you plead. This has got to end …I have no anger and animosity anymore. I just want peace.”