South Beach Menace

A scuffle minutes from the nation's sandy playground highlights its slimy underbelly

Sloppy police work may have also contributed to Martin beating the attempted murder rap. Detectives did not conduct follow-up interviews with key witness Carlos Bustamante, the man walking by the Walgreen's who claims he heard Martin say he wanted to kill someone just hours before the stabbing.

Regardless armed burglary is a first-degree felony, and Martin could receive a life prison term if convicted. "It's too early to talk about sentencing," Griffith says.

It's unlikely that Hernandez will be able to testify at Martin's trial, which is scheduled for May 14. He has been hospitalized at the Ryder Trauma Center intensive care unit for 71 days. He suffered severe brain damage, a stroke, and paralysis throughout most of his body. He is fed through a tube and has undergone a tracheotomy. In late January Hernandez caught pneumonia, and his lungs were filled with phlegm.

Reynaldo Martin was arrested twelve times by Miami Beach police in 2006
Reynaldo Martin was arrested twelve times by Miami Beach police in 2006
Hector Serna was walking his three dogs when he saw Martin retrieve the knife he used to stab Hipolito Hernandez in the neck.
Hector Serna was walking his three dogs when he saw Martin retrieve the knife he used to stab Hipolito Hernandez in the neck.

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Outside the hospital, just two blocks away from the jail where Martin resides, Hernandez's mother, Luz Lasalle, and his older siblings, Saul and Mari Luz, console one another. Luz Lasalle says that she arrived from San Juan this past December 29 and has not left her son's side since. "I had just spoken to him for a good twenty minutes on the phone before this happened to him," Lasalle says, her lips quivering with sadness. She fights the urge to cry. "My son had his whole life ahead of him," she says. "Now there is a chance they might release the man who stabbed him? Why? So he can stab more people?"

If it were up to him, Saul Hernandez says, Martin would get at least 20 years. "That man has destroyed our lives in every sense of the word," Saul says. "He should not be allowed on the streets."

The recent developments have also left Morales, Serrer, and Dattilo bitter. "We live in a very bad part of Miami Beach," Morales says. "Yet we're surrounded by all these multimillion-dollar condos. So if this happened to someone with some cash in their pocket who could afford a lawyer to pressure the state attorney, maybe Hipolito would get some justice. But when you're struggling to make ends meet and raise a family, it is impossible."

Serrer, Hernandez's neighbor who witnessed part of the altercation, says he is afraid Martin will return to the neighborhood if he's released. "Of course he is going to claim self-defense," Serrer snaps. "But if this guy comes back, I'm moving the heck out of here."

Griffith assures there will be no plea deal for Martin. "We are taking this case to the jury," he says, "and the community will make the final decision on Mr. Martin. And if he is convicted, he won't be coming back."

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