By Terrence McCoy
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Detective Grossman then drove Keith Mitchell to the Metro-Dade police station on U.S. 1 in Cutler Ridge. On the way, Mitchell pointed out the three-way intersection of Krome and SW 168th Street as the scene of the shooting. Other Metro officers drove Lemus, Fred Rutzke, and seven Brooks employees to the Metro police station, after instructing their passengers not to discuss the case among themselves. Of course, Grossman admits, everyone present already had plenty of time to talk about what had happened.
At the crime scene, detectives searched all of the vehicles involved. They found a spent shotgun shell casing in the bed of Keith Mitchell's truck, another in the grass next to the driver's-side door, as if it had rolled out when the door was opened. In all, police impounded five shotguns from the trucks. Laboratory tests later determined both the shells that were found had been fired from the twelve-gauge Winchester pump-action shotgun in Keith Mitchell's truck.
When Grossman interviewed Murray Bass at the police station, he reconstructed the chase for the detective. When the trucks reached the intersection at Krome Avenue, Bass recalled, he heard a gunshot and saw Keith Mitchell pointing a shotgun out the driver's-side window of his pickup. The getaway truck continued north, with the Mitchell brothers following for eight blocks, until Lemus pulled over. When Bass arrived, the Mitchells, both of whom were holding shotguns, were standing over Mike Lemus. Bass told Grossman that he asked the men who had shot Donovan. Keith Mitchell replied
that he had done it. Mitchell refused to give a statement to police, but Grossman listed him on her report as the suspect in the shooting.
Lemus gave police a second, more extensive statement at the station. Donovan had telephoned him to suggest they drive down to a friend's farm somewhere "way out in the boonies" to pick fruit. There the two men had picked some lychees, squash, papayas, and most of the mangoes, then headed for home. They stopped somewhere else along the way when they saw some large mangoes hanging over a fence. They pulled over and picked ten or fifteen of the fruit, then turned around and headed back the way they had come, Lemus explained, because there was only one way in or out. A few minutes later, they were confronted on SW 168th Street - it was Charles Dorsey - and the chase commenced in earnest. Lemus, who is of Cuban descent, said Donovan had urged him to speed away because "these rednecks hate Cubans." Lemus described the man who did the shooting as a white man in his thirties, with a heavily pockmarked face, driving a white or brown pickup truck.
When Det. Tom Kelly confronted him with his felony past and the fact that he was on probation for cocaine-possession and grand-theft convictions, Lemus confessed that all the mangoes in the truck had actually been taken from the Brooks grove and that the jackfruit found in the truck also was stolen. Lemus told Kelly that he and Donovan had hoped to sell the fruit to Calle Ocho markets, which might pay eight dollars for a bushel of mangoes, less than half the going rate of $22 per bushel. Both he and Donovan were addicted to crack, Lemus told Kelly. Because they were afraid that getting caught would result in jail time for violation of probation, they had fled.
Accompanied by attorney Michael Cohen, Lemus made a third statement to police on June 4. Again he described the chase. Again he described the shooting, but this time his memory of the events seemed to have improved significantly, and he was able to discuss the gunman in far greater detail. The man was white, Lemus said, with brown hair combed to the side, a long nose, a heavy mustache. He wore sunglasses and a white shirt. While steering with his right hand, the man had aimed the shotgun out the driver's-side window of his truck. At one point he drew even with Donovan and Lemus, pointed the shotgun at them through his passenger's-side window, and ordered Lemus to pull over. Lemus said he told the man he'd stop, but only if he agreed to put down the shotgun. When the man refused, Lemus sped away. The man continued to point the shotgun out the window all the way up to Krome Avenue.
As he whipped the pickup onto Krome, Lemus heard the shots and saw Donovan had been hit. "I couldn't actually see his finger moving but I know he shot the shotgun," Lemus told police. Then he corrected himself. He saw the man pull the trigger, Lemus said, saw powder coming out of the shotgun twice. Not only that; he could identify the shooter. It was the only person he'd seen wielding a weapon. A month later, Lemus picked Keith Mitchell out of a photo line-up and identified him as the man who shot Danny Donovan.
Because the case was so unusual, it came under the review of the Dade State Attorney's Office from the onset. But even with the help of Susan Dannelly, a veteran prosecutor in the Dade state attorney's major-crimes section, the cloudy circumstances surrounding the shooting never became much clearer. "Mike Lemus did more to hurt this case than any other single source," Dannelly asserts. "If he just could have gotten things straight here, we'd probably be looking at an entirely different situation. But Danny Donovan's friend basically eliminated this office's ability to prosecute."