Eye for an Eye

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

But as in any family, things were not always rosy. "When my parents would fight," Aisha giggles mischievously, mirroring her father's toothy grin, "Dad would always come to me. I was always his getaway." Pulling the long sleeves of her oversize blue hooded jersey over her small fingers, she beams at the memory: "I remember when I was really little, everyone would think I had no mother because I was always with my father." Then, almost inaudibly, she mumbles into the floor, wiping away a stray tear, "He was such a loving and generous man."

Ayoub raised his four children in accordance with Islamic law, but he was not overly strict. Outside the family home, a different set of rules existed; punishment for Saudi citizens who break the law was and remains severe.

Sitting in the bleachers of UF's virtually deserted Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on a recent evening, Aisha explains why crime in her homeland is almost nonexistent. "When I was about five, I stole a little red eraser," she confesses, rolling her eyes and blushing. "It was a stupid thing shaped like an apple that you put on the end of a pencil. I don't know why I stole it, but my father told me if I got caught, [authorities] would have cut off my hand."

Tim Gough
Tim Gough

Squirming at the thought of having a limb amputated — which is legal in Saudi Arabia, as are public beheadings and floggings — Aisha lowers her voice to a dull, husky growl: "And surely they would, but you know what, I never really appreciated the culture until now. I mean the news was always about stupid stuff; I never remember hearing about rape or murder...."

With her words still hanging in the brisk night air, the young woman takes a profound interest in the clasp of her small silver wristwatch as a river of tears gushes down her flushed cheeks.

In the early Nineties, Ayoub decided his kids — particularly his two daughters — would receive a better education overseas. For them life in the kingdom was very restrictive. So when Aisha was only seven years old, he sent her, his three other children, and their mother to Miami. He stayed behind, where he was assured a stable income.

For the next decade, Ayoub saw his family once every year or two.

But in 2001 he made the 7200-mile voyage from the Middle East to Florida with no return ticket. Mohammad Ayoub was finally home.

When North Miami Beach Senior High School senior Lazaro Esteban Cortes Jr. celebrated his nineteenth birthday this past April, his future seemed set ... despite his humble beginnings.

The only son of Cuban-born parents, Cortes lived in a three-bedroom apartment with his mom, 22-year-old sister Ivonne, and Ivonne's two children, ages six and one. His dad had moved out of the family home several years before, but the two maintained a healthy relationship, Ivonne says.

The Cortes family lives in a two-story, turquoise-color building at the end of NW Fourth Avenue — a dead-end street flanked by NW Seventeenth Street and the Dolphin Expressway. It was here, in the heart of Overtown, that the young Lazaro lived for five years before his arrest in Ayoub's murder. The neighborhood is unwelcoming, run-down, and, according to residents, extremely dangerous. Visible from the cluttered balcony of the family's second-floor corner unit are drug addicts, prostitutes, drunks, and homeless.

"This is not the kind of neighborhood where you want to make friends," says the tall, slender, olive-skinned Ivonne, "but Boobie [Cortes] seemed to get on with everyone."

Indeed the family's elderly and friendly downstairs neighbor, Carrie Grant, describes Cortes as "a nice boy who kept to himself." Straightening her canary-color smock, she beams affectionately as she strolls past the green railings that separate her ground-floor home from the street. "I actually just got back from dropping [Ivonne] and the kiddies off at daycare, on account of the rain. They are such a pleasant family."

According to Ivonne, Cortes is generally well mannered and avoids trouble where possible. "If he happened to have a problem with someone, I would have to be the one to tell them to leave him alone," she laughs. "He just isn't an aggressive person."

Before he was charged with murder for standing guard outside the Dollar and Beauty, Cortes had never had a run-in with the law, Ivonne says. Records reveal he had never been arrested. "That's not the way we were raised," she adds. "He was just never a troublesome kid, never the one to start anything." Indeed Cortes boasts a muscular but not menacing physique. He stands an average five feet nine inches tall and weighs 160 pounds. Framed by closely cut black hair, his childlike face, with full lips and wide, questioning brown eyes, appears soft, not at all threatening.

The doe-eyed Cortes, his sister says, was working diligently on a plan to find a better life — dedicating his time to football and his studies.

"He had a routine. He would get up sometimes as early as 6:00 a.m. if he had practice, go to school, and come home," says Ivonne. "Any free time, he either spent with his girlfriend Mika or working with our uncle [a locksmith]."

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