Denise Calvo: Murder Suspect

Last week Denise Caligiuri Calvo, dressed in a handsome black suit, light-brown hair coifed in a long shag, entered a cramped courtroom at the Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building and stood before a judge. She raised her right hand and swore to tell the truth, her long, manicured fingernails glistening. As she strolled to the witness stand she passed Anthony Craig Lee, the 32-year-old man accused of shooting her husband in the head last September 18 and leaving him to die in the driveway of the Calvos' luxury home in south Coconut Grove. Sitting next to Lee was one of his private lawyers, the fabled criminal defense attorney Ellis Rubin.

The occasion was a bond hearing for Lee, held in the courtroom of Judge Andrew Hague. But when the widow took the stand and Robert Barrar, co-counsel for Lee along with Rubin, began asking her questions, it seemed as though the trial had already begun and that she was the accused. Barrar's objective was to cast so much doubt on the charges against his client that the judge would allow Lee to bond out of jail. The attorney's strategy was to level a long series of accusatory questions at Denise Calvo suggesting she had killed her husband José during the driveway incident.

Suspicions about 40-year-old Denise's possible involvement in the crime arose shortly after the murder, when detectives learned that she was friends with Anthony Lee's mother Verneka and had bought crack cocaine from her and Anthony. After twice meeting with Miami homicide detectives to answer their questions, Denise stopped cooperating.

Citing her constitutional protection against self-incrimination, she repeatedly responded to questions at last week's hearing by reading the following statement: "Based upon Fifth Amendment principles, although I am innocent of any wrongdoing, I respectfully decline to answer the question on the advice of counsel." Despite the fact that she didn't answer 42 of 46 questions Barrar posed to her, Judge Hague refused to release Lee on bond, deeming him a flight risk and a potential danger to Calvo. In doing so, Hague noted that Lee had fled to South Carolina after the murder. The judge also cited remarks made by one of Lee's acquaintances, 49-year-old James Mullins. In a lengthy statement to police, Mullins reported that Lee had called him shortly after the shooting and said Denise wouldn't have "the last laugh" and "that bitch gonna get hers. Crack smoking-ass bitch." Mullins told detectives he believed Denise and Anthony were in "cahoots" on the day of the murder and that "she tried to cross him."

Barrar's questioning provided a glimpse into the defense he and Rubin are building with documents the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office began releasing to them (and news media) in January, as part of a standard procedure in criminal prosecutions known as "discovery." Among the materials were transcripts of lengthy interviews police have conducted with people connected to the case.

Some of the questions Calvo refused to answer refer to information that has already been publicized: Do you know Anthony Lee? Did you ever use crack cocaine? Did you ever purchase crack cocaine? Did you shoot your husband? Did you participate in the shooting of your husband? Did your husband have a life insurance policy of which you were the beneficiary of $1.5 million? Did you recently sell your house for $850,000? How many guns do you own? (Detectives recovered five handguns in the Calvo residence after the murder. According to state records, neither Denise nor José Calvo had a concealed-weapon permit at the time of the shooting.)

Below are more of Barrar's unanswered questions, each pointing to information detectives gathered from friends of Lee and his mother. Taken together, they help explain why police believe Denise Calvo is a suspect in her husband's murder. Police interviews also indicate that Denise and José were deeply entangled with cocaine dealers and prostitutes in the black Grove, and that their marriage may have been strained by jealousy, rage, and drug addiction. Barrar's questions to Denise appear in italics.

Do you know Marquese Williams?

Miami police detectives Ervens Ford and Manuel Castillo questioned 29-year-old Marquese Williams at 4:00 a.m. on September 23, five days after the shooting. Williams, a friend of Anthony Lee, told police he had met Denise two or three years before the murder, while he was living at Verneka Lee's residence. At the time Williams worked as a waiter at Paolo Luigi's restaurant near CocoWalk. He said he had "no idea at all" who killed José Calvo or why. He did admit to using cocaine at the Lee residence, but never with Denise. He also affirmed he had been to the Calvo residence twice, to pick up some used clothes and "a bunch of old stuff," including telephones.