Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A rabbi from Brooklyn crosses paths with a thug from Miami; it sounds like the beginning of a bad novel. Instead, it was the end of a good life. On August 9th, 2014, Rabbi Joseph Raksin was shot and killed while walking to temple. The investigation and subsequent prosecution of the suspected killer has left the community in uproar.
The Miami-Dade Homicide Bureau has some of the best detectives in the country. Still, for more than a year, there were no arrests in this high-profile, politically-charged case.  Some thought was a robbery gone wrong, but others thought to be a hate crime.  Then, on December 9th, 2015, the authorities held a press conference. With a mug shot and a poster full of charges, the State Attorney announced the arrest of Deandre Charles as the suspected killer. They cited evidence including cell phone records, DNA from the crime scene, and a sketch of the killer.
Deandre Charles is a black kid from Miami Gardens. He attended Miami Norland High School. He was 14 years old at the time of Rabbi Raksin’s murder. Miami Gardens is a troubled section of North Miami-Dade County where good citizens deal with shootings, robberies, or murders every day. The area produces cold-blooded killers, even 14-year-old killers. The case sounds good, right? We've got a murderer here!
The State believes its case is solid. On March 23rd, 2016, there was a hearing on Charles’ motion for bond - this is where Charles asks a judge to be released on bond prior to trial and if granted, the release conditions would be listed in the judge’s order.  At the hearing, the State shared details of their case against Charles. What they shared was less than compelling and a lot less than a solid murder case.
First, the DNA evidence: at the time of the murder, DNA evidence was collected from the crime scene and the rabbi's clothes. Six days after the killing, the police stopped a car that was seen near the crime scene. Charles was a passenger in the car during the stop. Police impounded the car and collected additional DNA samples. The DNA recovered by the police from the scene, the car used in the murder, and the rabbi’s clothing was a mixture, meaning the samples each contained DNA from multiple people. DNA experts from Florida International University testified that the DNA recovered was consistent with Charles’ DNA, but they also found consistent with half the world’s population. The DNA literally could have come from anyone, Charles, you, or me.
A cellphone owned by Charles’ mother, pinged near the scene before and after the murder. Charles and his family live in the area, it doesn't seem unreasonable that the cell phone would "ping" in the area. An informant named three persons involved in the murder, Deandre Charles' name wasn’t among them. A witness, who later identified Charles in a photographic lineup, described the person he saw running from the scene as a tall, thin black man and in his twenties. Charles was 14.

Oh, and that sketch? The witness drew it, not a police sketch artist.  To be kind, I would describe the sketch as simple, child-like. It looked more like a cartoon than a person. The Judge being kind described it as “folk art.” It doesn't look like is Deandre Charles or anyone else for that matter.
When the police interviewed Charles, he denied any involvement and told investigators he was at home. There were no witnesses to the actual murder. Other than the witness identifying Charles in the vicinity, there is no direct evidence presented that even places Charles at the scene of Rabbi Raskin's murder. And though the single witness puts Charles in the area, his mere presence doesn't mean that he committed the crime.
Judge Jason Bloch heard this evidence at the hearing. In order to deny a bond request, the State must present evidence that meets a higher standard than that which is necessary to convict at trial. Judge Bloch ruled that the State did not meet this standard, and his order allows for Charles' conditional release, once Charles posts a $300,000 bond.  Many in the community are angry that the subject in the rabbi's murder may bond out and be under house arrest instead of in jail before his trial. Some have questioned Judge Bloch's ruling.   But is it the judge who is to blame or are the authorities who brought forth a questionable, entirely circumstantial case?
Can one be convicted of murder based on circumstantial evidence? Yes. Did Deandre Charles murder Rabbi Joseph Raskin? Maybe. Can the State of Florida prove this? Hardly, at least at this time the State’s case looks to be rather weak. Under the circumstances and reviewing the evidence presented, most judges would have reached the same conclusion as Judge Bloch.  What Judge Bloch did was look at the evidence presented to him by the State and not the person accused, the victim, nor the politics involved.  And Charles? He is still in jail, unable to post the $300,000 bond.

Patrick J. McGeehan, Esq. is a criminal defense and family law attorney in Miami, Florida.  In addition to having over 20 years of law enforcement experience in the South Florida region, Mr. McGeehan was a police instructor in several areas as well as a court certified expert witness in D.U.I., speed measurement, accident reconstruction and other law enforcement fields.  Mr. McGeehan has been featured on numerous national news networks, radio and print media regarding his legal work.  He can be reached at the Law Offices of Patrick J. McGeehan, P.A., One Biscayne Tower, 2 South Biscayne Boulevard, Suite 3760, Miami, Florida 33131, 305-577-4933,;

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