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
Merrial Williams and her three kids left Tessie Massey's efficiency, and in March 1996 moved into Arthur Mays Villas, public housing owned by Miami-Dade Housing Agency (MDHA), subsidized by HUD, and managed by a private company. On June 17, 1996, while Merrial was in Alabama with a boyfriend and her two other kids, Porsche gave birth to Erin. Clark and his wife, Belinda, were by Porsche's side when she delivered her child. In 1997, owing to her deteriorating health, Merrial placed her two youngest kids, Precious and John Lee, back in the care of their great-grandmother Massey. "I told Merrial I'd take them until she got better," Massey says. "But she didn't never get any better."
After Merrial's October 1997 request for more accessible living quarters, MDHA moved the family into a ground-floor apartment in Wynwood in March 1998. Just a block away, at 325 NW 35 St., Jonas Baptiste lived in an identical-model MDHA duplex with Marcia Anderson and her family. In the summer of 1998, Porsche and Baptiste crossed paths. Around the same time, Merrial was arrested for purchasing cocaine.
Much of Jonas Baptiste's life is reflected through his criminal records, and those who knew him offer conflicting stories. He was born in Miami on August 22, 1978, to Rene Jean Baptiste, a native of Haiti, and Mary Patricia Gamble. Mary Baptiste says her younger brother was in and out of foster homes from the age of three, sometimes lived with his father, and by the age of sixteen was out on the streets, hustling, and answering to the nickname Gigolo. Marcia Anderson, a mother of six, claims she took the twelve-year-old Baptiste under her wing after his mother died. But Baptiste's twenty-three-year-old sister Mary says he moved in with Anderson when he was about nineteen, when he became friends with two of Anderson's sons. Furthermore, claims the sister, their mother is not dead. "She just didn't want to deal with us," Mary Baptiste asserts.
Baptiste's only known occupation was dealing crack and cocaine in Wynwood and on the fringes of Liberty City. His first arrest came in 1995, at the age of seventeen, for selling marijuana. The following year police arrested Baptiste for possession of cocaine with intent to sell. Also in 1996 he was arrested for burglary and grand theft auto. In September 1997, Baptiste was caught selling two Ziploc bags of crack, and five of powdered cocaine. He was arrested a total of ten times.
Yet those who knew him generally speak of a quiet, intense young man who kept his emotions buried within. "He was a goodhearted person" says Catrevia Harris, Marcia Anderson's 27-year-old daughter. Tessie Massey, who met Baptiste on three occasions, says he seemed cordial "It was all, 'Thank you, ma'ams and yes, ma'ams' with me," she says. Sue Williams, Merrial's sister who moved in with Porsche after her mom died, thought Baptiste was a nice person. So did their neighbor Diane Robles.
But others believed Baptiste was nothing but trouble. "Everything bad, Jonas was involved with," Clark says. Trice Jackson claims she sensed something amiss but never talked to her friend about it. "When I started working the night shift, we kind of lost contact, but there was definitely something about him I didn't like."
Most accounts, however, hint at parallels between the lovers' lives. Porsche and Baptiste both had part-time fathers, absent mothers, and led lives in which drugs played too large a part. Friends and family of both say Baptiste was devoted to Porsche. "She was his first true girlfriend, and he really went out on a limb for the girl," Catrevia Harris says. Mary Baptiste says her brother constantly talked about Porsche. "He would always tell me how much he adored her." Neighbor Robles says Baptiste's love may have bordered on obsession. "He never had a family," Robles says. "For the first time in his life, he felt secure."
In December 1998, when Porsche started her freshman year of high school at Northwestern, Baptiste began to spend some nights at his girlfriend's home with Merrial's consent. A month later, on his way to visit Merrial at the hospital, Clark dropped by the house to check on Porsche and see if she needed anything. There he met Baptiste for the first time. "Porsche saw how I was looking at him," Clark says "So I guess she said, 'I better introduce him so he knows who this guy is.' And she did, but she introduced him to me as her friend. I left. I didn't say nothing that night, but in my mind I was like, Now I'm coming back: I need to talk to her."
Clark says he stopped by the following day on his way home from work. Baptiste was there and wore the same clothes he had on the previous day. "I didn't know he was living there," Clark says. "I just was noticing things." Clark stepped outside with Porsche and asked her for an explanation. Porsche confessed Baptiste was really her boyfriend. "I told her, 'Why you need a boyfriend? You got him,'" he says pointing at Erin, who is sitting at the dining room table contentedly eating a hamburger and French fries for lunch. "It'll happen again," Clark told Porsche. "No, no, no, I'll protect myself," Porsche had responded. "She tried to hide a lot of things," Clark comments. Clark gave her some packages of stuff she needed and left. He talked to his wife about it that night, and she advised him to confront Merrial.