Boxer Yathomas Riley: Beast or Victim?
UPDATE: Yathomas Riley was released on August 17, 2012, after evidence unearthed by Miami New Times that showed that investigators had trusted an unreliable witness and ignored key facts. After our reporting prodded investigators to re-examine their case, they dismissed all the charges. Riley has since returned to the boxing ring.
"We have a fucking emergency!" screamed a man's deep voice, hoarse with hysterics. "We have a fucking emergency!"
The 911 call came just before midnight on a Thursday in June 2010. When the caller calmed down, he told the operator his girlfriend had tried to commit suicide. "She tried to prove to herself [that] she loved me," he sobbed as children wailed in the background. "And she shot herself."
When paramedics arrived at the Phoenix Apartments in Homestead, they found 31-year-old Koketia King unconscious on her bed. Blood seeped from bullet holes in her head and leg. Slumped against the wall was her on-again, off-again boyfriend, a lanky professional boxer named Yathomas Riley. He was supposed to be in New York preparing for his ninth pro fight. Instead, he was covered in her blood, clutching their toddler son in his powerful arms, and trying to shield the child's eyes from the bloody mess.
King didn't die, however. She awoke in the hospital a few hours later claiming Riley had tried to kill her. Miami-Dade police arrested the athlete for attempted murder. And the light-heavyweight's promising career was knocked out cold.
But Riley is not done fighting. He insists King, a state corrections officer, shot herself when he threatened to leave her for good after catching her filing fraudulent tax forms for inmates. Moreover, the evidence appears to be in his corner. King's testimony contradicts itself on key points. Medical records seem to support Riley's version of events. And cops found gunshot residue on King's hand, not Riley's. His family wonders why he is still behind bars nearly two years later, awaiting trial. "My son could be champion of the world right now," says Riley's father, Julius. "Instead, he's rotting in jail because of that woman's lies."
King did not respond to repeated requests for comment. But in court records, she says she never lied about anything and that Riley tried to kill her. Prosecutors insist they have enough evidence to proceed with the case.
Yathomas Riley didn't step into a boxing ring until he was nearly 21 years old, but he had spent a lifetime scrapping. He lived in a small house on Ninth Street in Florida City, the poor last pit stop on the way to the Keys. With six brothers, Yathomas quickly learned to defend himself. "Fighting was part of growing up where we came from," his half-brother James Brady says.
Riley grew to be six-foot-one with broad shoulders and sure hands. He played point guard for South Dade Senior High School's basketball team. But when he moved with his mother to Ohio, he fell in with a gang. He was arrested and spent several months in juvenile detention, where he learned to box.
When Riley returned to Florida City in 2003, he shocked his father by saying he wanted to become a professional boxer, not a basketball player. Soon Riley was running ten miles a day and pushing an old pickup truck from one stop sign to another. He began sparring at a Dominican boxing gym in Allapattah.
The southpaw shot up the amateur charts. Around that time, Riley met Koketia King at a family reunion in Perrine. The pretty guard at the Dade Correctional Institution in Florida City and the aspiring boxer soon moved in together. Both of them already had two children each from previous relationships, but when King became pregnant around Christmas 2005, she moved to California with Riley so he could train for a fight.
In early 2006, Riley won a National Police Athletic League (PAL) title and a Golden Gloves belt. By the time their son Yaheim was born in September, Riley was competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team. When he narrowly missed out on the '08 games, he faced a choice: move back in with King, who had returned to Florida for work, or pursue a professional career.
Riley signed a pro contract with a promoter in New York. He promised to support Koketia and Yaheim from afar, but the decision broke their already-cracking relationship. "Yathomas had a business mindset. He was more focused on his career than on her," his brother Brady explains. "Koketia knew that as a traveling athlete, he was going to meet girls. He wanted an open relationship, and she took that kind of hard."
Life as a pro wasn't easy. At first, Riley slept on an air mattress at a gym in the Bronx. That's where he met Lisa Amodio, a medical student from Westchester who was finishing her residency at a nearby hospital. One day, Riley offered to help Amodio work out. Between punches, she asked him out.
Pretty soon, Amodio was working in Riley's corner as his cut woman. In his first year as a pro, he went 4-0 with three technical knockouts. The couple was engaged in 2009, which infuriated Riley's ex. "Koketia wasn't happy about our engagement," Amodio says. "They had a very messy, prolonged breakup, much to my disapproval."
When Riley moved back to South Florida to train for a fight at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, he stayed with King, despite Amodio's objections. "She didn't want to let him go," Amodio claims. "And he wanted to see his son."
Then in June 2009, police showed up at King's apartment in Homestead and arrested Riley. Her 12-year-old daughter had told cops that Riley had sexually molested her. Records from the State Attorney's Office, however, show investigators didn't believe the girl. King didn't believe her either, telling cops her daughter was jealous of the time she was spending with Riley. Prosecutors quickly dropped the case, and Riley moved back to New York to fight.
Riley kept on winning, but problems lingered. In New York, he heard rumors that King was making money by helping inmates file federal tax returns with falsified information. When he visited in June 2010 and confronted her, she denied it, he contends.
Convinced King was lying, Riley searched the apartment. He found a letter inside her purse. It was from an inmate; social security numbers were disguised as phone numbers, Riley says. (Police have yet to investigate this claim. King has no criminal record and hasn't been charged in this case.) When King returned home from a friend's house around 8 p.m., the two began arguing.
From that point forward, Riley's and King's versions of that night differ dramatically. The boxer told police he had his back to King while reading the letter out loud. Getting mixed up with inmates' taxes when she had a good job, children, and his support was "like shooting yourself in the ass," he said.
That's when King pulled a Glock from her purse and fired the first shot into her buttocks, according to Riley's statement. When he turned around, King said she would kill herself to prove she loved him. Then she pointed the gun at her head. He lunged for it, but it was too late.
In court records, King admitted to arguing over something she received in the mail, but refused to describe what or why. She claimed Riley pushed her onto the bed and told her: "If you don't sit down, I'm going to shoot you."
The rest of her testimony varies, though. In a deposition taken at Jackson Memorial Hospital, she said Riley walked to the closet, unlocked a box, and pulled out her gun. When she wouldn't sit down, he shot her in the leg. She fell onto her back on the bed. Then Riley shot her a second time in the vagina, she claimed.
In a later deposition for a restraining order, however, she claimed Riley took the gun out of her purse and shot her while she was sitting on the bed. She also said she called 911 but Riley took the phone from her. In neither deposition did she remember getting shot in the head.
But medical and forensic records appear to back up Riley's version of events. Even after a dozen medical procedures, including a bath and the sterilization of her hands, one of King's fingernails tested positive for gunshot residue. (She would later claim Riley rubbed the gun on her hand). Riley, who had been taken straight into custody, was completely clean.
Police found only two spent bullets and two casings at the scene, contradicting King's testimony that she was shot three times. Doctors at Jackson Memorial also determined that even though King had three wounds, she had been shot only twice: one bullet entering above her left buttock and exiting her left thigh, and another to her face.
"If it came down to the evidence and the truth, I'd be home by now," Riley says from behind a glass partition at Miami-Dade's Metro West Detention Center. He says when he found the letter, he told King their relationship was over for good. "She probably felt like her whole world was coming down on her," he says. But he doesn't fault her for framing him. Instead, he blames the cops and prosecutors who have bungled the investigation. "They know everything I told them about the taxes is true, but they didn't investigate."
Riley's father and fiancée believe police are either covering for the corrections officer or hiding a bungled investigation by keeping Riley in jail.
The boxer was supposed to go on trial last June, but prosecutors have repeatedly pushed back the date. Amodio thinks they are trying to wear Riley down so he will sign a plea agreement, saving investigators the embarrassment of losing at trial. She also believes Miami-Dade detectives have willfully ignored the glaring motive behind King's attempted suicide: the bloodstained tax letter. "It's an intentional omission," Amodio says. "He won't plead to anything because he didn't do this."
Riley also maintains his innocence from jail. His only boxing ring now is a tiny cell. But the man nicknamed "the Beast" isn't giving up. "I am going to be the world champion," he says, pressing his fist to the glass partition. "Some of the greatest boxers ever lost everything before they won it all."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Miami New Times' biggest stories.