By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
There was no confusion, however, regarding what Andrew Morello, Anthony Vincent, Bjorn DiMaio, and Ralph Scocco had in mind when they pulled into the 800 block of NE 144th Street at approximately 3:15 in the morning. According to the other boys, Morello wanted the speakers from a Jeep Cherokee parked on the block.
As they sat in the van Morello had borrowed from his father, they debated who would get out and break into the Jeep. DiMaio later said he went because he had the most experience in such matters. He walked across the street, saw that the Jeep was outfitted with a burglar alarm, and kicked one of the tires to see if the alarm was activated by motion. It wasn't, so DiMaio quietly broke the small triangular window on the passenger's side, reached in, rolled down the side window, and carefully crawled inside.
In the house next door, George Russell, a Miami police officer, had just gone to bed when Thor, his German shepherd, began barking. Russell followed Thor into the living room and looked out the front window. Across the street, parked off the road on a grassy swale, he could see a black van. To the side, he later recalled in a sworn statement given to investigators, he saw someone near his wife's car, which was parked in the driveway.
The neighborhood had recently been troubled by auto thefts and burglaries, so Russell walked back to the bedroom and woke up his wife, who had gotten home from work at about 1:30 a.m. and had gone to bed a short time later. "Somebody's screwing with the cars out front," he told her. They grabbed their guns, put on robes, and headed for the front door.
"The fucking van's running," Russell said to his wife as they stepped outside. In an effort to get a license plate number, George Russell tried to circle around behind the idling van. Morello, in the driver's seat of the van, saw the Russells coming out of their house and initially drove forward a few feet. Anthony Vincent, sitting in the back, told him to stop and go backward instead so they wouldn't see the tag number. Morello changed gears. As the van backed up, Ralph Scocco crouched down in the passenger's seat and covered his face with his hands.
Laura Russell, in a sworn statement, said the van began backing up "at high speed, real high speed." Her husband, however, said the van was moving "very slow," an "absolute creep." They both said they screamed over and over again, "Stop! Police!"
Morello backed the van down the street and pulled alongside the Jeep, which was parked next door to the Russells' house. Laura Russell told detectives she moved into the street, in front of the van. Her husband testified he was a couple of feet behind her, standing in the middle of the street. (See diagram A, page 12.) Their attention was concentrated entirely on the van, specifically on Morello, the driver. At this point, Laura and George Russell both have said, they had no idea someone was inside the Jeep.
Bjorn DiMaio, having removed one speaker in the Jeep, was quietly working on the second when he noticed Morello's back-up lights. As the van pulled even with the Jeep, several things happened almost simultaneously. Anthony Vincent opened the sliding side door of the van, and as a result, the van's interior dome light came on. DiMaio then opened the back door of the Jeep, setting off the alarm. He jumped out and leaped into the van through the sliding door, moving so quickly he literally jumped out of one of his sneakers. Laura and George Russell told investigators they were startled when the door to the Jeep opened and a figure came bounding out. "I was completely surprised," Laura Russell said. "I had no idea there was anybody over there at all."
According to her sworn statement, Laura Russell was less than ten feet from the van when it stopped and the dome light came on. She said she was standing directly in front of the van, between the passenger's-side headlight and the center of the van. A Metro-Dade homicide detective later asked her to describe what happened next.
When the dome light came on inside the van, the detective inquired, was the vehicle stopped or moving? "Well it was...it's hard to say," she answered in her sworn statement. "I don't know. I don't know if it was, you know, it was like a transitional phase. It wasn't like it stopped for any length of time. It's like it was in reverse, it stopped for a second and then it started forward, and at some point during that, the light came on, because I saw it."
Russell was asked to describe the change in gears and the movement of the van. "Well, like I said, it was kind of all one thing," she explained. "The van never really completely, I guess, stopped motion, but it stopped and then it changed directions and it came at me.... I had my gun pointing at the driver and I remember screaming, `No!' and it came forward at me, the van did, and I shot him." Russell said that after she fired, the van came to a sudden stop about five feet from her. The driver, she claimed, then threw the vehicle into reverse and backed down the street.