"Rhett was just a punk kid. He wasn't that bad," says Ed Hill, a North Miami Beach police detective who would later spend decades tracking him. "He fell in with a bad crowd, especially Carlos Cuello."

Life turned upside down on May 22. Fuller still disputes the police's description of what happened that afternoon, but the basics are clear.

The three friends met at Napolitano's shabby apartment, a one-story, dirty yellow building a few blocks west of Biscayne Boulevard on NE 172nd Street, to smoke weed. Around 4:30 p.m., two older guys named Larry Miller and Jerry Hiebert, who was 26 years old, allegedly showed up to buy 15 pounds of the stuff from Cuello.

In court documents, Napolitano says all three friends knew ahead of time that Cuello's deal was a "rip-off." All three were armed: Cuello and Napolitano with .38s and Fuller with a shotgun. When the pair of buyers walked in, Cuello ordered Miller to lie on the ground, pistol-whipped him, and — when he fought back — shot him twice in the arm and once in the leg.

Fuller "engaged in hand-to-hand combat" with Hiebert, the victim told police, according to depositions. Fuller grabbed a hammer and "hit him repeatedly over the head" until he lay stunned on the ground. (New Times reached Napolitano, but he declined to speak on the record.)

Fuller says he had no idea anything violent would go down that afternoon. "Basically, you're a kid having fun, you hang out with the guy selling weed, and you smoke pot all day," he says. "Someone came to buy some weed, there was an argument, it escalated into pushing and shoving, and then somebody got shot. I saw it all, but I had nothing to do with it."

Either way, with Miller bleeding to death and Hiebert knocked out, the three friends ran out the back door, hopped a fence, and sprinted away.

Fuller sought advice from everyone he could think of — relatives, friends, even his Navy recruitment officer in California. "Basically everyone was saying, 'Just go home,'" he recalls. "I was still a teenager. I didn't really know what was at stake. I just knew I'd be safe back in Belize."

It wouldn't be easy to flee the country. An arrest warrant was out for the three friends. Police captured Napolitano first. The other two didn't know what to do. A few weeks after Miller's murder, a Miami-Dade social worker named Edwin Malawey received a strange phone call from his daughter. She wanted him to talk to some friends of hers "named Rhett and Carlos."

"It was a horrible story they told me," Malawey later testified in court. "It was about a drug deal gone bad. A guy named Carlos had emptied his clip into another kid... They wanted my advice about what to do."

Malawey told them to turn themselves in right away.

Instead, the two friends caught a bus to Chicago. They hitchhiked and bused their way to California, then New Mexico, and then across into Mexico.

From there, it was a short week or so to the porous border with Belize.

Back in his homeland, the thin, internationally wanted 19-year-old calmly re-enrolled in high school, reconnected with old friends, and started a new life. "He never mentioned anything about being wanted in the United States for murder, nothing about that at all," says William Ysaguirre, a newspaper editor in Belize City who made friends with Fuller soon after his return. "I think his relatives told him: 'Look, you messed up and could have been in really serious trouble. You've got a chance to start fresh; don't mess it up again by talking about what happened.' "

By all accounts, he became a stand-up citizen. He began working as a manager at one of the hotels catering to cruise ship passengers; then he held a job at an advertising firm before landing a gig with his brother-in-law's construction firm.

A few years after returning home, he met Ann, a pretty local with caramel skin and long, dark hair. They were married and eventually had two sons and a daughter. Fuller was open about his Miami case, Ann says. He even regularly phoned Ed Hill — the North Miami Beach police detective in charge of Miller's murder — to check in. Whenever they caught Cuello, Fuller said he told Hill, he would return to Miami to testify against him.

It seemed Rhett Fuller had become a different man in Belize. He started going to church and dedicated himself to his family. "I backslide a lot, but it's my family that keeps me going," Fuller says. "I'm not perfect. But I do go to church, and I do try to be a good man."

His construction firm, meanwhile, gave regular work to many locals in the depressed economy and built high-profile projects such as the World Cup-qualifying soccer stadium that was recently finished in Belmopan, the capital.

"Everyone makes mistakes," Ann says. "Rhett is a good man who has atoned already many times over."

Fuller's story took the first of several bizarre turns in 1997. That October, a local police officer showed up at his home and carted him off. When he walked into a humid interrogation room, Fuller found Hill with two other Dade cops. The detectives had finally caught a break in Miller's murder case two years earlier, when the New York Police Department had responded to a domestic disturbance and found Carlos Cuello's girlfriend so angry that she flat-out said, "This guy's wanted for murder in Florida."

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8 comments
Reddi
Reddi

What is also appalling in this case is Detective Ed Hill's numerous indiscretions and criminal actions. He has incurred suspensions and thats it??? He should have been fired from the department and charged criminally, but unfortunately he is back on the beat. How can he be trusted in any case which he is the investigating officer?

Joy4fold
Joy4fold

I can't believe 1st degree murder only gets you ten years in jail. This guy was there but the one who actually did the killing served 10 and is now free!!!

Rawknbetty
Rawknbetty

that story went on forever... it could have been a lot more interesting if shortened and not so wordy

J.R.
J.R.

What a scumbag. How typical of the new times to use the poetic "on the lam" instead of the more accurate "fugitive from justice". I think there should be more press coverege: all murderes and other criminals should be made aware that they can commit any crime they want, then live the rest of their lives in another country. The victim is still dead. This fugitive still lives - and has reproduced.

Craig29
Craig29

Great story!! So sad that a good kid made one dumb split decision mistake and ruined his life!! Great story!! Rhett has suffered enough!!

dave chatt
dave chatt

Please sign this petition for the Federal Gov't. to try Casey Anthony~She made a MOCKERY of the State of Florida~ Push the Federal Government to review their options under the Dual Sovereignty Doctrine. President Obama will review it and respond after Oct. 22nd. https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/pe...

PaulyG
PaulyG

"One dumb split decision mistake"? He helped kill someone you worthless piece of shit. I hope someone makes "one dumb split decision mistake" and kills your dumbass today, you fucking idiot.

J.R.
J.R.

"rhett has suffered enough"? Is his victim still suffering?

 
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