Eye for an Eye

Three teens allegedly killed a man for eleven dollars. Do they deserve the needle?

As daylight begins to fade outside the Dollar and Beauty store at 1062 North Miami Beach Blvd., a deafening tidal wave of traffic roars into view. Like a firefly, a lone motorcyclist flits through the torrent of commuters. Snippets of radio songs spill from cracked windows of the passing vehicular swell, their perky lyrics drowned by the wail of a distant siren. On the westbound side of the six-lane street, a ground-floor office space dims to black, and a stream of employees trickles out. They filter onto the adjoining sidewalk and bustle past a group of youths who laugh excitedly and then disappear into the darkening night.

No one gives Mohammad Ayoub's deserted convenience store a passing glance. Six months ago, drivers would crane their necks to see the Saudi Arabian émigré's shop as they careened past the single-story strip mall. Pedestrians would stop and gawk.

But today floor-to-ceiling shutters mask haunting reminders of the horrific event that took place this past May: near the front door, a huge hole cut from the gray carpet that absorbed the brunt of the 60-year-old's fall; a crumpled dollar bill that fluttered and landed alongside him in a thick red pool of blood that had leaked from Ayoub's skull.

Tim Gough
Tim Gough

He was shot point blank in the face with a handgun. His killers got away with ten bucks.

"Had this happened in Saudi, [the murderer] would have been killed," Ayoub's petite and youngest daughter, 22-year-old Aisha, spits angrily, waving a tightly clenched fist. "It's about being responsible for your actions."

The physical similarities between father and daughter are undeniable: the playful grin, the round cheeks, the mischievous sparkle that lurks beneath their long, curly, dark lashes. But when Aisha, a fiercely intelligent University of Florida senior, speaks of her father's murder, her huge brown eyes blaze with rage. Then comes unrelenting grief: "I feel like I've been cheated," she says in a quivering whisper, straining to stop a waterfall of tears from flooding her chubby young face. "I don't understand why. Why did they have to do this to our family?"

Between July and September, police arrested three young men for Ayoub's murder. The first was nineteen-year-old Emmanuel Jean, alleged to be the shooter and the only one in the store with Ayoub during the incident. Keeping watch outside, cops contend, were Lazaro Esteban Cortes Jr., also nineteen years old, and Richard Mikey Petit, age sixteen.

Sometime in early 2007, prosecutors plan to ask a grand jury to indict the trio as adults on first-degree murder charges. If the jurors agree and the youths are convicted, a 1995 state law mandates they receive at least a life sentence without parole. Jean and Cortes, who both turned nineteen roughly one month before the murder, could even be sentenced to die.

"Our office has lots of things to consider [before seeking the death penalty]," says prosecutor Edward Tapones.

In Aisha's eyes, the logic is simple: "I want an eye for an eye."

When he was young, Mohammad Ayoub was attractive; his robust physique complemented his five-foot six-inch frame and full head of thick dark hair.

Eager to escape the poverty of his native Pakistan, Ayoub at an early age left his six younger siblings and set off in search of economic success. Following an estimated one million of his countrymen, Ayoub made the 2000-mile trek to Saudi Arabia.

It was on that country's west coast, in the cosmopolitan port city of Jeddah — the principal gateway to Mecca — that the young Ayoub settled into family life with his Pakistani bride, Fakhra. In a weathered black-and-white picture taken on the couple's wedding day in November 1974, the twentysomething Ayoub exudes charisma and charm; with one arm draped around his wife, he slightly cocks his clean-shaven face to one side and beams a wide, toothy smile. His light gray eyes sparkle with affection; his mouth is open with glee. His bride is dressed in a traditional burqa, her long dark hair barely visible. She smiles reservedly. (She declined to speak with New Times).

By the time the Ayoubs settled into married life, Saudi Arabia had evolved from an underdeveloped desert kingdom into one of the wealthiest nations in the world, thanks to its oil resources (by 2003, Saudi officials claimed to possess almost one-quarter of the world's petroleum reserves). It was also recognized as one of the most devout and insular countries in the Middle East, where the public practice of non-Islamic religions sometimes resulted in severe punishment, even death. The Urdu-speaking Ayoubs, who are practicing Muslims, nevertheless embraced their new surroundings. Less than two years after tying the knot, they celebrated the arrival of their first child, son Ahsen, who was followed two years later by daughter Fatima.

Ayoub honed his skills and became an accomplished draftsman, crafting architectural and engineering plans. He worked diligently to support his growing family, which by 1984 also included son Mohsin and baby daughter Aisha.

"He made very little money actually," laughs the diminutive Aisha. "But every single thing he did and every penny he had was for us, his family. That was just the kind of man he was," she adds proudly.

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