With an electronic buzz, the back door of the Miami-Dade Pre-Trial Detention Center cracks open. A broad-shouldered man in a white T-shirt and prison-issued sandals steps into the muggy evening. It's raining, but he doesn't sense the fat drops on his fight-scarred face. After two years behind bars, Yathomas Riley doesn't feel anything except an overpowering rush of freedom.
Riley's release last Friday after two years in jail without a trial marks the sudden end to one of Miami's strangest crime stories. As late as last week, the State Attorney's Office had intended to prosecute the professional boxer for attempting to kill his girlfriend in a jealous rage in June 2010.
But evidence unearthed by Miami New Times and published in a series of stories beginning in April 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.
"You put all the pieces together," Riley says of New Times. "You made all this possible."
"At this time, the State is unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant, Yathomas Riley, shot the victim, Koketia King," prosecutors determined in a close-out memo that credited New Times with bringing new evidence to light. "The victim had so polluted the case by lying to police, prosecutors, and the court for over two years that the State was forced to [drop the charges]."
The boxer's real fight is only beginning, though. Despite spending two years in near-solitary confinement, Riley is already planning a return to the ring. He's also considering a lawsuit to demand compensation for his wrongful incarceration.
"To sit inside of a cell for 18 months, knowing that you're innocent and knowing that the system hasn't worked itself out, it takes a tough guy," Riley's attorney, Kionne McGhee, says. "This is probably the biggest bout that he's ever faced."
Riley's remarkable rise through the boxing ranks was almost as surprising as its abrupt ending. He grew up in Florida City, one of the poorest parts of the state, and learned to throw a punch while scrapping with his six brothers. But Riley chose to play basketball, and it wasn't until a spell in juvenile detention for falling in with a gang that he learned to spar. He didn't enter a real boxing ring until he was almost 21.
When he did, however, he dominated. The six-foot-one southpaw had a knack for patiently pounding away at his opponent's body, biding his time until the other boxer dropped his battered defense. Then Riley would unleash a left hook. He shot up the amateur charts, winning two national amateur titles in 2006 as a light heavyweight. The next year, he was competing for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team.
When Riley narrowly missed out on the 2008 Olympics, he signed a professional contract with a New York promoter. He trained at a gym in the Bronx, where he met a doctor named Lisa Amodio. The two dated, and as Riley mowed down his first eight opponents, Amodio worked as his cut woman.
But Riley's South Florida past shadowed him. He maintained an off-and-on relationship with a Florida City corrections officer named Koketia King. The two had a son together in 2007. And when Riley returned home in June 2010, he lived with his former flame.
Around midnight on June 10, 2010, Riley called the police sobbing and saying King had shot herself. Cops found Riley clutching the couple's 3-year-old son, Yaheim, while King bled on the bed. But when she woke up hours later at the hospital, she claimed an enraged Riley was the one who pulled the trigger.
King told police that Riley had pushed her onto the bed and told her: "If you don't sit down, I'm going to shoot you." When she refused, he shot her three times in the leg and the vagina, she claimed.
Riley told a very different story, though, and when we looked into it, we found evidence supporting his version of events. Earlier on the day of the shooting, Riley found a letter from an inmate in King's purse. It contained a social security number disguised as a phone number.
He suspected King had been helping inmates file fraudulent tax returns in exchange for a share of the bogus refunds. So the boxer confronted King about the letter and told her that getting mixed up with tax fraud when she had a good job, children, and his support was "like shooting yourself in the ass."
That's when King pulled a Glock from her purse and fired a round into her buttocks, Riley told police. She said she would kill herself to prove she loved him. Then she pointed the gun at her head. Riley lunged for it, but it was too late.
An April 19 New Times article revealed that both physical evidence and witnesses' statements supported Riley's story. Cops found gunshot residue on King's hands but not on his, for instance. And doctors determined she was shot twice — once in the buttocks and then the head — as consistent with his claims. King, meanwhile, changed her testimony multiple times, including altering important details about how and where she was shot. Yet cops never investigated Riley's claims about the tax fraud, and prosecutors dismissed them as unfounded.
Then, in June, New Times published an update based on evidence recently obtained by the defense: photos of the bloody letter found at the scene of the crime. Not only did it contain a social security number disguised as a phone number, as Riley had always claimed, but also the number matched that of a former Florida inmate who told New Times she'd had her identity stolen and false IRS tax returns filed in her name numerous times.
Prosecutors insisted they still had the evidence to take Riley to trial. But the New Times article prompted prosecutors to re-question King. Last month, she made a shocking confession: She had, in fact, been helping Andre Pinder — a career criminal convicted of murder, manslaughter, and escaping from prison — fill out false returns.
Last week, New Times published a second update revealing King's confession and the rapidly unraveling case against Riley. Though the boxer had spent two years in jail without bond and been subject to innumerable procedural delays, prosecutors remained steadfast.
But that changed last Friday, when the State Attorney's Office suddenly dropped all the charges. In the close-out memo, prosecutors attributed the decision to this newspaper's reporting. "The victim lied about the contents of a key piece of evidence — the blood-stained letter from a prisoner," lead prosecutor Anna Quesada wrote. "It was not until the State read a Miami New Times article, several weeks after it had been published, that [King's connection to the tax fraud] was ever brought to the State's attention."
McGhee, Riley's attorney, claims there is a federal investigation into the tax fraud ring at the correctional facility where King worked. He also hints at a lawsuit seeking compensation for the two years of boxing that Riley has missed.
"Ray Charles could have seen through [some of the evidence against Riley]," McGhee says. "Ms. King was a correctional officer, which brings an extra ingredient of [police and prosecutors] protecting their own. There may have been a rush to judgment by certain people involved in this case... An apology is owed to Mr. Riley."
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Standing outside jail after his release, however, Riley has only one thought: becoming a champion. For two years, he's been shadow-boxing in his cell, imagining a bout against Chad Dawson, the current WBC light heavyweight titleholder.
"Chad Dawson and everybody that's on top better watch out, because I'm comin' for ya," Riley growls. Then, on cue, he snaps rapid-fire punches into the air. It's as if the undefeated boxer, surrounded by a cheering crowd of family, friends, and complete strangers, is already back in the ring.
"I feel bad for the first guy he fights," his brother Julius says. "You don't want to be that guy."