Crime

After killing of cross-dressing vodou priest, Miami-Dade man pleads guilty

Malherbe Francois
Malherbe Francois Miami-Dade Corrections

During a heated quarrel in North Miami-Dade, Malherbe Francois gunned down a cross-dressing vodou priest when the man supposedly threatened to kill him.

The priest’s weapon that night, Francois claimed: some sort of “magic” powder in a bottle.

Although he could have claimed self-defense at trial, Francois this week accepted a plea deal, admitting to the murder of Beauglais Bazelais in February 2013.

Francois, 24, must serve 15 years in prison on his conviction for second-degree murder.

For prosecutors, they knew a jury might have real questions about whether Francois legally acted in self-defense in killing his older lover, even though the man did not have a weapon such as a knife or a gun. The case was also complicated by the “religious undertones” weaved into their story, prosecutors said.

“These concerns were discussed with the next of kin, who agreed with the negotiated plea, in order to provide a sense of closure and finality with the case,” prosecutor Paige Saperstein wrote in a final memo on the case.

The Haitian vodou religion, which blends Catholic beliefs with the worship of African deities, is deeply rooted in the island’s culture and also widely practiced outside of Haiti.

Back in February 2013, police discovered Bazelais, 44, shot to death in the doorway of his home in the 1000 block of Northwest 113th Terrace.

Francois later surrendered to police. A Miami-Dade police report, released this week, lays out his version of events:

He said Bazelais was a vodou priest who “charges money for casting spells and healing” people, according to the report by Miami-Dade Detective Michael Scott.

The home had a specific room designated for vodou rituals, including the sacrifice of animals. That is not an uncommon practice in religions with roots in Africa, including the well-known Afro-Cuban faith of Santeria, or Lukumi.

The story’s twist: Bazelais often dressed as a woman in public and invited Francois, who was homeless, to live with him in the home, the report said.

Francois told police that Bazelais drugged him before the first time they had sex. They soon became lovers — Bazelais liked to say they were married.

On the morning before the shooting, Bazelais had gone to a North Miami-Dade cemetery to “collect souls for a vodou ceremony.” Francois was out on the streets.

While at the cemetery, Bazelais called Francois demanding that he return to the home. When Francois did, Bazelais was there with another Haitian man “and a spirit.”

But Bazelais’ possessive streak continued later that day when Francois went to a local park to hang out with a girlfriend.

Bazelais sent angry text messages demanding that Francois come home.

When Francois finally returned home that night, around 11 p.m., the vodou priest and a group of other men were watching ceremony videos on a computer.

After the men left, Francois began packing a bag to leave the home. Bazelais began to threaten him if he left, the man told police.

“I could do what the hell I want and I’m doing to make sure you are dead,” Bazelais yelled at him, Francois claimed to police.

Francois grabbed a Glock .40-caliber pistol from the kitchen cabinet as Bazelais then “began walking toward him with a white or yellow magic substance on his hands,” the police report said.

Francois fired three times. Bazelais crumpled to the ground, mortally wounded.

Francois walked to a nearby gas station, bought Black & Mild cigars and called 911 to report the shooting.

He was booked into jail, but not before Miami-Dade homicide detectives bought him a Wendy’s spicy chicken sandwich, fries and an orange soda.

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