By Michael E. Miller
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By Sabrina Rodriguez
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VonFouts didn't linger in the apartment, but he was there long enough to notice some aspects of the scene. "I did see two bottles of Corona sitting on the counter that were unopened," he says. (Later he would find in the refrigerator four more Coronas from a six-pack. When he and Webb had left on vacation, there were no Coronas there.) Sitting undisturbed on the floor near RJ's body was a plastic cup filled with orange liquid, which he surmised was vodka and orange juice.
According to VonFouts, the six-pack of Corona was significant. Ordinarily, if RJ were drinking alone, he would have bought a 40-ounce bottle of cheap beer. He theorizes that RJ sprung for the Corona "because the girls were coming over."
RJ's friend Tino Anthony agrees: "He didn't drink Corona unless someone else bought it." He simply couldn't afford the expense. Same with drugs. Anthony says that while RJ would dabble in club drugs, he "was too broke to do anything regular."
Other friends describe RJ as street-smart, not the type of person to invite a stranger up for a drink.
In his brief time in the loft, VonFouts scanned the area and didn't see anything missing. Later, when he and Webb returned, they confirmed that nothing in the apartment had been taken -- not the three computers, the Xbox and PlayStation and numerous games, not RJ's wallet or cell phone.
VonFouts called 911 and waited on the sidewalk until the two police cars arrived. According to the incident report, the first cop on the scene was Miami Ofcr. Eugene Edwards. VonFouts directed him to the upstairs apartment and remained outside.
One of the officers (VonFouts cannot recall which) came back down from the loft to interview VonFouts. He asked him about RJ's diet and his drug and alcohol history. "I said the guy eats cheeseburgers and fast food all the time," VonFouts recounts. "And he'll go across the street and buy a 40 [ounce beer]." Perhaps RJ had choked on a piece of food, VonFouts offered. But the line of questioning was being steered toward an overdose. "That's what they assumed when they got there: 'Well, looks like your friend maybe had too much fun or something,'" VonFouts says.
The officers on the scene told him he could leave, and VonFouts was gone before the first homicide detective arrived. He came back with Webb (who had returned to Miami later that morning) to see RJ's body being taken away. One of the police officers then turned to the two friends. "They told us, 'Look, you need to get a cleaner, you know, and get this place cleaned up. Go ahead and clean it up,'" VonFouts remembers.
When he later saw the police incident report, VonFouts was surprised at the way his comments had been reworded: "Mr. VonFouts advised that the victim didn't take care of his health and abused alcohol and narcotics. Homicide responded and advised unclassified until futher investigation."
Counters VonFouts: "RJ had been known to do drugs, but he was not an abuser. They kept wanting to paint a picture that it was an overdose."
Just Plain Poor Investigating When a body is discovered and reported to 911, police officers are dispatched to the scene, followed by a homicide detective who conducts an examination. It is the job of the homicide detective to determine whether a medical examiner should be summoned. On January 4 the job fell to Miami Police Department homicide Det. Orlando Silva.
"It's a judgment call [whether to summon a medical examiner]," explains Larry Cameron, director of operations for the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office, which processed RJ's body.
Silva's supervisor, Sgt. Altarr Williams, explains that "if the body is in decomposition, the best course of action is for the doctor to respond."
But Cameron says neither of the two medical examiners on call that day was asked to respond to the scene of RJ's death. In his opinion, they should have been. "It was [initially] classified as an [undetermined] death," he notes, "because for some reason [Silva] had gotten some information to say it was a suicide." (The only reason seems to be VonFouts's comments about beer, cheeseburgers, and occasional drug use.)
Neither Detective Silva nor Sergeant Williams will discuss what took place that day -- whether Silva actually examined the body on the rug, lifted up the shirt to look for wounds, or called a medical examiner to the scene.
"That's just plain poor investigating," says Harold Ruslander, forensic supervisor at the Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office. Although he emphasizes that he's not familiar with the specifics of the case, Ruslander, who has more than thirteen years of crime-scene experience, says if Lockwood's shirt had been lifted up, police would have seen the bullet hole. "A hole is a hole is a hole," he quips. "It's pretty easy to see."
Meanwhile roommates VonFouts and Webb began looking through the phone book for a professional cleaner but couldn't find one. The building's superintendent, Gil Terem, agreed to help. He cleaned the place, scrubbing down much of the floors and surfaces.
"I removed the [rug] maybe two to three days later," recalls Terem, an owner of the District Restaurant and Lounge in the Design District. The rug on which RJ lay, which measured five feet by eight and which might have contained trace evidence, was taken out to the parking lot. "I brought it downstairs, next to the Dumpster," he says, adding that police never contacted him about it.