As he had in the past, Fuller quickly offered to testify if he wouldn't get slapped with a first-degree murder charge. "I told them everything because I thought we were trying to help each other out," he says.

But the three detectives wanted more, Fuller says. "Hill said they had this other murder, this Maugeri woman. They knew that Carlos had killed her too, and they needed me to testify against him."

Indeed, Marisa Maugeri's murder had bedeviled the North Miami police force for almost a decade. The 30-year-old paralegal had mysteriously been shot through the eye in a Publix parking lot the night before Thanksgiving in 1989. Maugeri's brother-in-law was an FBI agent who had kept pressure on the cops.

With Cuello's arrest, dominoes seemed to fall into place. Cuello matched the description of her killer, he lived in the neighborhood at the time, and he had no alibi. Fuller's testimony could be the last straw.

The only problem: Fuller said he had never heard Maugeri's name before.

"I thought, Holy shit, I'm in trouble now," he says. "I was scared as shit. But right there, I told Ed Hill no. I knew it was wrong. I wasn't going to pin that on Carlos."

The agents let Fuller go back to his wife and kids. But less than 12 months later, the local police were back. A Miami grand jury had indicted him for first-degree murder in January, and on October 21, 1998, he was arrested.

Fuller's file was now officially open on Barbra Piñeiro's desk.

She had no idea how hard it would be to bring Fuller back. The case of Fleitas, the machine-gun killer who escaped from Glades Correctional in 1995, provides one perspective. As prosecutors suspected, Fleitas had fled to Mexico, ending up in Mérida, the touristy capital of the Yucatán Peninsula, where he waited tables at a seafood restaurant in a high-end mall.

His fatal mistake was to keep his other profession — home burglary — going on the side. Just as in Hialeah, one of those break-ins went wrong. On August 2, 1997, he shot a woman point blank with a .38 and was caught a few blocks away. At first he told cops the woman had attacked him; then he claimed he was "squeezing" her for a gambling debt with a local mob. They didn't buy it.

His fingerprints quickly popped up as a match for Piñeiro's escaped convict, but Fleitas insisted he wasn't the fugitive. The Mexican authorities were confused enough to ask a visiting Miami Herald reporter if he'd seen photos of Fleitas to confirm it was him.

By repeatedly claiming mistaken identity, Fleitas was able to stay in Mexico for 14 years. Not until this past July 28 was he finally extradited to Miami.

"We really worked that case for 14 straight years. It was almost constant pressure from our office to see that through," Piñeiro says.

Another clue to Rhett Fuller's fate is that of Jovany Araujo. The then-44-year-old Peruvian immigrant was charged in 2004 with repeatedly raping his 14-year-old stepdaughter. But he took off to Peru before cops could nab him.

Piñeiro quickly identified him in Lima but had to work for four years to get him back.

In many such cases, the wait is worsened because the victim's family becomes apoplectic over the delays. "They come to my office, angry, in tears, not understanding why it takes so long," she says. "It can be brutal."

In 2008, Araujo was at last extradited; he was convicted and received 30 years in prison.

Sometimes, fugitives do Piñeiro's job for her. Back in 1982, a Spanish immigrant named Carlos Santys was furious when security guard Roberto Camba reported him to police for writing a bad $1,000 check in exchange for a 1979 Datsun. So he stormed into the guard's office, fatally shot a secretary, and then blew away the guard.

Santys ran and for 25 years lived under the radar in Spain. But in August 2007, he tried to fly to the United States. He was turned away at the gate and then quickly arrested back in Spain. Piñeiro had him extradited within a year, and in July 2010 he was sentenced to 40 years.

After his indictment, Rhett Fuller spent nearly two years in a Belize prison, sitting on death row in a six-by-nine-foot cell he shared with a convicted double murderer. The pair looked out a window each day to see two moldy gallows in a weedy courtyard. Finally, Fuller was released on bail pending appeals and began making the local TV-news rounds. He became a magnet for a strong anti-U.S. sentiment that pervades tiny Belize, a nation of only 300,000 people.

"Belize doesn't get a lot of attention from the United States," says Bruce Bagley, chair of the University of Miami's international studies department. "There's a lot of resentment toward U.S. foreign policy, so a guy who fights a U.S. extradition order can win some fans."

Fuller's attorney, Eamon Courtenay, filed numerous appeals. The heart of his argument was that Hill had coerced damaging information out of Fuller by promising a deal.

Hill says that allegation is ridiculous: "I'm in no position to offer anyone deals in the first place. I'm a detective, not a prosecutor."

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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!!

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?

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...

 
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