How to Get Away with MURDER

A woman witnesses her boyfriend's murder, is then raped, and now faces criminal charges herself. Unbelievable but true

Before going out with Pacheco, Lola asserts, she had never used crack. "Don't get me wrong," she says. "I went to clubs and drank and stuff, but as far as that, I had never done it." She was already taking prescription drugs for her mental condition. But with Pacheco she began experimenting. Although she declines to go into further detail, investigators say she eventually admitted she had at least once traded sexual favors to acquire cocaine for Pacheco.

On the evening in question, Lola and Pacheco, who earlier that day had been working with his father in the yard, left their children with their respective grandparents and rented a motel room on SW Eighth Street in Miami. "We just went there to be intimate," she recounts. "I was taking Ativan [an antianxiety medication], and I was overdoing it. It was making me high. He wanted to try some. We were both feeling buzzed."

The Ativan high evidently sparked in Pacheco a desire for crack. The two may have bought drugs earlier, but if so, Lola won't discuss it. It is known, however, that sometime after midnight they set off for West Perrine. "That's always where he would go," she says.

Jonathan Postal
The people and the place (clockwise from above): Frank Pacheco was 
severely beaten during a botched drug buy at this street corner; police 
later questioned Cornell Clay and Lyvonne Jackson, while arresting and 
then dropping charges against Luis Leon
The people and the place (clockwise from above): Frank Pacheco was severely beaten during a botched drug buy at this street corner; police later questioned Cornell Clay and Lyvonne Jackson, while arresting and then dropping charges against Luis Leon

They drove Lola's 1994 red Mazda MX-6 to the corner of SW 102nd Avenue and 173rd Terrace, where Pacheco got out to make his deal. Before exiting the car, he asked for her watch in order to sell it. When he came back to the car, a black man was with him.

"I just remember him coming back to the car with the guy, and he told me they couldn't do anything with the watch," she says quietly. "Frank didn't want to take no for an answer. I couldn't hear what they were talking about. They argued. I saw him push Frank to the ground. Then the others came over. They started to kick him. They didn't use their fists. I got out of the car while they were beating him. They told me: öYou come near him and we're going to kick your ass, too, bitch!'"

"Yes, I was petrified," she says in response to a question. And then she breaks into tears.


Witnesses described Lola as emotionally frantic when she arrived at Baptist Hospital about 3:30 a.m. An off-duty Miami-Dade cop visiting relatives happened to be present and saw her jump out of the Mazda screaming, "Help Frankie! Help Frankie! They beat him up!" The officer could see inside the car the slumped body of an unconscious man sprawled across the back seat with his head resting on the floor.

When he asked what happened, according to a report he later wrote, Lola explained that she and Pacheco "were driving around and became lost." She described how "three unknown black males approached their vehicle and said something" and that Pacheco, referred to as Victim One, "exited the vehicle from the driver's side to approach the subjects" and that "the three unknown black males struck Victim One in the face with closed fist, causing him to fall to the ground," at which point "the three unknown black males began to kick him. The three unknown black males then threw Victim One into the back seat of listed vehicle. Victim Two [Lola] stated that the three unknown black males told her öto leave or they would kill her!'"

The officer called in the emergency to police dispatch. Meanwhile hospital staff rushed Pacheco to an examination room, where he was pronounced dead at 3:33 a.m. A member of the police team that descended on the hospital, which included four homicide detectives and a crime-scene analyst, described Lola as "hysterical after being informed that Victim One/Pacheco, had expired. This unit was unable to calm Victim Two/Lola down."

Lola was admitted to the hospital for a fractured left ankle, which she said she injured when one of the attackers pushed her down. The crime-scene specialists took her car to the Medical Examiner's Office to be combed for evidence.

From her hospital bed she told homicide detectives the same story of becoming lost and being attacked by a group of strangers who, after beating Pacheco and stuffing him into the back seat, warned her to leave or they'd kill her, whereupon she drove to Baptist Hospital. By 8:00 a.m. Lola had recovered enough, though she was on crutches, to accompany two detectives, Manny Blanco and Thomas Romagni, to the scene of the assault. Apparently the story about getting lost in that part of West Perrine made the detectives suspicious. By the time Lola returned to the police station and gave a formal statement under oath, she conceded that Pacheco was trying to buy crack.

From there the investigation moved rapidly.

A well-sourced beat cop from West Perrine, Ofcr. Ron Tookes of the neighborhood-policing unit, began reeling in tips from the street, relaying the information to homicide detectives. Tookes heard that the drug dealer who normally worked the corner where Pacheco was attacked was a 22-year-old named Cornell Clay. Police contacted Clay, who said that although he usually does work that corner, on the night in question he was home with his wife by 10:00 p.m. His wife corroborated the alibi. Clay admitted he'd heard about the incident and that the only other drug dealer who worked that spot went by the nickname "Peabody."

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