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

A few hours later Tookes called with a new lead. Another informant had helped identify two potential suspects: Luis Leon, a nineteen-year-old with a record that included arrests for burglary and grand theft, but no convictions; and a man who went by the nickname "Lagan." An hour later Tookes had detained "Lagan," a.k.a. 45-year-old Lyvonne Jackson, who agreed to meet with the homicide cops at the Hibiscus Police Station. Jackson, an admitted crack addict, explained that he was sleeping in the bed of his stepfather's truck the night Pacheco died. He allowed police to take his photograph, a DNA sample, and his fingerprints while detectives checked his story. When asked by police, his stepfather said he did catch Jackson sleeping in his truck early that morning.

The next day, February 19, detectives showed Lola three photographic lineups containing the pictures of Clay, Jackson, and Leon. She tentatively identified Jackson and Leon as two of the attackers.

By Thursday, February 20, two full days after the attack, identification specialists pulled a fingerprint from inside the Mazda and matched it to Leon. Another person's palm print was also found, which did not match Pacheco, Lola, or, as it would turn out, Jackson.

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

Lola also directed detectives to a friend of Pacheco's, Bruce Wilmbey, who lives on SW 138th Street. Wilmbey told them that Lola arrived at his house in tears about 2:00 a.m. February 18. She said Pacheco was in the car unconscious and not breathing, and she asked "what should she do," according to a summary of what he told police. He suggested she get Pacheco to the hospital, "at which time she asked him for a cigarette and then left the scene."

Now investigators had to try to understand why Lola told them she drove directly to the hospital when she didn't. Wilmbey lives about six and a half miles from Baptist, along SR 874. It's uncertain whether she knew the way, or if her panicked mind contributed to the delay.

It took the Medical Examiner's Office a month to conclude its report. March 19 Pacheco's death was officially determined to be homicide by blunt trauma, with a contributing cause of "positional asphyxia," meaning that an unconscious Pacheco had suffocated as a result of the way he was stuffed into the car. The medical examiner will not release the time of death, so it's unknown if Pacheco suffocated within minutes or hours after he was beaten.

Armed with Lola's lineup identification and the fingerprint from the Mazda, Detectives Blanco and Romagni asked Assistant State Attorney Daniel Bernstein for a warrant to arrest Leon on second-degree murder charges. Bernstein, a ten-year veteran of the State Attorney's Office who has prosecuted numerous homicide cases, described in a deposition how he prides himself on his intense involvement in murder investigations. "My practice was, if it was based on a number of witnesses, or however many witnesses, I would like to personally speak to the witnesses myself," he said. "As I recall, Detective Blanco or maybe it was Romagni ... called me and said that [Lola] would not come to the State Attorney's Office without a subpoena."

By then Lola had talked to her attorney, Neil Taylor, who told Bernstein there was concern about her liability for manslaughter, given the medical examiner's report. After thinking it over, Bernstein concurred. He consulted his supervisor, chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hogue in the felony division, and they decided to grant Lola immunity. "We made a decision that clearly the person who beat Mr. Pacheco to his death was more culpable than the person who drove him around," Bernstein said.

March 25 Lola gave a statement under subpoena for the arrest warrant of Luis Leon. In preparation for that statement, Bernstein asked other questions, and that's when she admitted performing sex acts to help Pacheco get cocaine, a revelation that shocked Bernstein.

Hours after getting a warrant, police went to the apartment of Leon's grandmother on SW 107th Avenue and 178th Street, where he was known to be living. He wasn't there that night or the next. It would be a month before detectives caught up with him.

The night of April 26, Homestead police tried to stop a car speeding out of the M & M Market. After a brief but serpentine chase in which the driver zigzagged through the streets and at one point switched off his headlights, only to crash into a fence, police arrested the driver, who turned out to be Leon. A computer check quickly revealed he was wanted for second-degree murder.

For someone so eager to elude police, Leon proved surprisingly talkative when Detectives Romagni and Clarence Poitier interviewed him. "Luis Leon informed detectives that he had been present during the beating of the victim and that he assisted in placing him into the back seat of the vehicle; however, he denied any involvement in the actual beating," according to police notes of the interview. And then Leon offered something the police had not heard before: He told them that after putting Pacheco into the car, "he along with the victim's girlfriend responded to his grandmother's ... where she engaged in sexual intercourse with him for the promise of cocaine. Luis Leon further advised that at a certain point, his family arrived home, at which time Ms. Lola jumped out the second story window to avoid being detected." Leon added that he went downstairs and helped her into the car.

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