Just before 5 p.m. this past Sunday, a Chevy Monte Carlo rolled up before a
squat, one-story house in Liberty City. Someone inside the car pulled out an AK-47 and
opened fire on a group of young men in the front yard, wounding five.
The drive-by was especially significant because it followed an even more violent
attack. The house that was strafed Sunday belongs to the family of Brandon
Mills, a 16-year-old who was killed along with an 18-year-old
acquaintance, Derrick Gloster, in January. An AK-47-wielding gunman fatally shot the
two and wounded seven more at a street corner craps game a few blocks from
Police are still looking for the connection between the two shootings.
But the prosecutor working on the January case -- a veteran of the
Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office -- says he believes the latest attack was
spurred by a news
story by reporter Jim DeFede that aired Thursday on CBS4. Based on a
description by an anonymous source, it clearly showed the family's address and
criticized witnesses for not coming forward. "It is my personal opinion that
this [Sunday's] shooting was triggered by the DeFede piece," says Michael Von Zamft, an assistant state attorney. "Certainly that cannot be ruled out."
The first attack took place just
before 10 p.m. January 23 on the corner of NW 70th Street and 15th Avenue. A
group of more than 30 people -- many teenagers from nearby Northwestern High
School -- was rolling dice in front of a small market when a man pulled out an
assault rifle and ordered everyone to lie on the ground. He opened fire when
people began running, and a second gunman hiding around the corner added to the
carnage. Both Mills and Gloster were shot in the head and died on the
Months of appeals from police and community leaders -- including
the Rev. Al Sharpton, who made a special appearance -- haven't led to an arrest
in the case.
That's where DeFede's
story comes in. The former New Times and Miami Herald
columnist, now an Emmy-winning television personality, reported last
Thursday in a five-minute broadcast about a possible motive in the January assault.
His piece claimed police have linked that shooting to Gloster, the
18-year-old victim. Gloster had allegedly killed a 21-year-old aspiring rapper
named Neo Brown a few days earlier, on Martin Luther King Day. According to
DeFede's account, Brown's friends shot up the craps game and killed Gloster as
DeFede included several quotes from a woman who claimed to have been
with Neo Brown when he was murdered. The woman, whom DeFede interviewed on
camera anonymously without showing her face, first said Gloster was the
killer. Later in the piece, she backtracked and said she was not positive who
The report also included an interview with victim Mills's mother,
Lasonya, in front of her home. Her address was visible in at least one shot.
Lasonya Mills criticized her neighbors for not coming forward with more
information and the police for not keeping her informed in the case. She
predicted there "will be more shootings."
Von Zamft, an
assistant state attorney who has prosecuted some of the area's most high-profile
murders, believes DeFede made the family a target by basing his story on the
anonymous woman's account. He also criticizes the newsman's decision to link Brandon
Mills's family to the source's claims by including them in the same story, and
for showing Lasonya Mills's face.
In Von Zamft's view, airing a
controversial but unproven theory about the attacks, coupled with Lasonya Mills's interview in front of her home, led to the retaliatory attack Sunday. He
carefully chooses his words and encourages the community not to be intimidated:
"There are people out there who know who did this shooting," he says. "But
we're talking here about the community at large not wanting to be branded a
snitch. People shouldn't want to watch people get shot and dying and not help
Police haven't released much information about the latest
attack, except that they're looking for a gray or silver Monte Carlo and two
suspects who might be black males. The lead detective didn't return calls to
comment about Von Zamft's statements. All five victims in the latest shooting have
been treated and released from the hospital.
When contacted by New
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Times, DeFede declined to comment. He promised to call back later.
this post, he hadn't responded.
A spokesman from CBS4 just called to refer us to a column DeFede has posted online responding to the latest attacks.
DeFede doesn't directly address Von Zamft's statements, though he does say "the shooting may very well have been prompted by my story."