One day before Rabbi Joseph Raksin was fatally gunned down in North Miami-Dade, somebody used the same .40-caliber pistol to rob a man some eight miles away, ballistic tests show.
But two of the three robbers that day had their faces covered and the victim could not identify them, according to newly released police reports.
Now, the lawyer for Deandre Charles, the 15-year-old accused of murdering the rabbi one day later, is using the robbery case to insist his client had no involvement in either shooting.
The robbery victim “described three males, none of which match the description of Deandre Charles,” defense lawyer Adam Goodman wrote this week in asking that a Miami-Dade judge reduce the bail for the lanky teen awaiting trial for first-degree murder.
Charles’ request comes a little more than a month after Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Jason Bloch himself questioned the strength of the evidence, granting him a $300,000 bond — a rare decision for a murder case. Bloch will consider the defense’s request for an even lower bond at a hearing to be held in the coming weeks.
For prosecutors, the ballistics test and a myriad of muddled witness statements from young men and women associated with Charles, amount to more curve balls thrown at an already challenging circumstantial case.
A spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office declined to comment, saying the “issues will be addressed in court.”
The murder of the rabbi visiting from Brooklyn shook the tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community of Northeast Miami-Dade. Raksin was gunned down with a .40-caliber pistol shot to the chest on the morning of Aug. 9, 2014.
At the time, Raksin was on his way to Bais Menachem Chabad in the 1000 block of Northeast 172nd Terrace, just outside of North Miami Beach, for the Sabbath. In accordance with his religious beliefs, he was not carrying any valuables on the holy day.
More than a year later, Miami-Dade prosecutors – citing DNA evidence, cell records and an eye witness identification – announced the arrest of Charles, who was 14 at the time of the slaying.
At a series of court hearings earlier this year, a neighbor identified Charles as one of two young men running from the rabbi’s body seconds after the shooting. And cell phone records placed Charles near the scene.
But Judge Bloch later ruled that “there is no direct evidence of the defendant’s presence during the encounter with the victim. Even if one were to assume he was at that encounter, and subsequently fled, there is no evidence that he was the trigger man.”
The state also said cellphone records placed Charles at the scene, and his DNA was found on a gun magazine found next to the body. His DNA, along with that of the rabbi’s, also was found on an SUV believed to be the getaway vehicle.
But the judge noted that the DNA match on the gun handle was weak – experts noted that “approximately half the world’s population” would also boast the same DNA identified in the sample. And he also ruled the DNA in the SUV did not prove Charles was in the vehicle the day of the murder; the lanky teen was pulled over with a group of other young men a few days after the killing.
Charles was granted a $300,000 bond, and was ordered to wear an electronic ankle monitor. But he has yet to post the bond and remains jailed.
After the hearing, police reports supplied to the defense showed that ballistics tests revealed the .40-caliber bullet casing found at the Raksin scene came from the same gun used in the robbery of a man at the Silver Blue Lakes apartment in Northwest Miami-Dade.
That happened one day before the rabbi’s murder. According to the victim, three men –— one whom he knew, two of whom had their faces covered — robbed him, firing one shot. The defense claimed prosecutors “hid” the robbery report before the bail hearings, although the reports have since been turned over.
The police reports also shed light on the involvement of a group of young men – some associates of Charles – seemingly blaming each other for the killing. A witness named Junior Souffrant claimed that he was in the SUV with two men, Kevin Civil and Dennis Parker, who got out. Shots rang out and the men came running back.
According to a detective’s report, Souffrant – who is awaiting sentencing in an unrelated weapons case – told police that Civil said: “I just bagged a Jew, I think I’m going to get caught for it.”
So far, only Charles has been charged. To police detectives, Civil denied any involvement in the killing.