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Johnny Charles is five feet five inches tall and weighs 140 pounds. He is 24 years old and has almond-shaped eyes the color of inky black pools. The Miami native is behind bars, and if convicted on all charges, he will go down as one of the area's most prolific — and vengeful — serial killers.
Among Charles's alleged crimes: He shot and killed nine people in cold blood and tried to murder nine others. Most of this happened after he sawed off an ankle monitoring bracelet while awaiting trial on armed robbery. One of his victims was a 19-year-old named Watson Chery. Prosecutors say the beef with rival gang members began in middle school.
"I just got back from visiting my son's grave today," says Chery's mother, Catherine. "I go three times a week. My family's messed up because of this. I hope the men who killed my son go to jail. I don't want them to kill other people's kids."
Last week a grand jury indicted Charles and four other men, all members of a local Haitian gang called the Terrorist Boyz, for racketeering and murder. The gang specialized in "retaliating against other gang members, silencing witnesses, and exacting revenge on perceived enemies," the grand jury wrote. The court documents reveal lots about Miami's brutal gang culture and the young second- and third-generation Haitian men who are drawn to them.
Little is known about Charles's childhood. He was born in Miami and attended some school here. At one point, he lived in a small pink house with a rusty chainlink fence at NW 80th Street and Fourth Avenue, not far from Little Haiti. Most of his crimes, authorities say, took place around the time he lived in the home, between 2001 and 2003. He was the self-proclaimed head of the Terrorist Boyz; his turf included Little Haiti, North Miami, and North Miami Beach.
Charles might have committed crimes as a juvenile, but they aren't listed in court records. His adult record began February 25, 2001, when the 18-year-old pistol-whipped a woman named Gertrude LaFleur as she sat on her stoop at 14645 NE 14th Ave. He also stole her cell phone. This victim would return to haunt him.
He was taken into custody but soon released on house arrest. Morgan Harris, the Miami-Dade County corrections department officer who drove Charles home, told prosecutors many people were awaiting the teen at his home that day. "One thing that stuck out with me: There was no adult supervision in the house," Harris said later in a deposition. "No parents anywhere. No sign of a parent. I didn't see anything that represented in any way a structured environment."
A few weeks later, records show, Charles removed the ankle bracelet. Authorities searched for him, going to his house and talking to his friends. But he eluded capture. Then on January 29, 2002, his younger brother Mario was shot and killed during an argument in Little Haiti.
Charles's grief apparently led to a wave of violence that swept across Miami-Dade like a thunderstorm. In March 2002, the Terrorist Boyz brazenly plowed a white station wagon into a Hollywood pawn shop, mowing down the store's shutters, concrete wall, and steel door. They stole 33 weapons, including an SKS assault rifle, a 9mm pistol, and a machine gun.
Led by Charles and his cousin Frantzy Jean-Marie — who both sport tattoos that read, "RIP Mario" — the gang apparently took revenge. First, on April 28, 2002, Charles threw a gasoline-soaked rag inside a house at 1065 NW 73rd St., where the girlfriend of Mario's attacker lived. Charles stood outside with a semiautomatic rifle. Three people were inside, including a six-year-old — but the fire didn't ignite and no one was hurt.
Then on May 21, Charles and his gang pumped 30 rounds into Watson Chery. The genesis for that act of violence occurred years earlier, when Chery, a student at North Miami Middle, was involved in a 1996 dispute with kids from Thomas Jefferson Middle.
"He was my dream, he was my hope, he was my baby," says Catherine Chery, a Haitian immigrant. The family moved to Miramar after the shooting. "I had raised my son to be better."
Surely the mothers of many of Charles's victims felt the same way. In the months that followed, the Terrorist Boyz killed 10 people and attempted to kill 27 others, according to the indictment. Most were shot with the stolen guns. Some were stabbed. One of the attacks was retribution: A man named Orlando Young, for instance, was shot 12 times on the corner of NW 62nd Street and 13th Avenue on May 27, 2002. Charles believed he had urinated on Mario's grave.
Others were the result of drug turf wars: Charles tried to kill a man named Jimmy Carry the next day in an attempt to rob him of cocaine and cash. Jerry St. Pierre was shot and killed in his front yard. Emmanuel Robiou was murdered at Victory Park in North Miami Beach on July 4 — and six others were wounded by gunfire.
In late summer, the gang took a hiatus. But in October, Charles and a carload of buddies fired on Will Davis in the parking lot of Jumbo's on NW Seventh Avenue. "I got that nigga," Charles said to his friends, according to court records, as they sped away. Davis died from 14 gunshot wounds.