In a year-old mystery, a felon freed after he could not be returned to Haiti killed three people. Was it random, or was he working with someone?
By DAVID OVALLE
When burglar Kesler Dufrene became a twice-convicted felon in 2006, a Bradenton judge shipped him to prison for five years. And because of his convictions, an immigration judge ordered Dufrene deported to his native Haiti.
That never happened.
Instead, when Dufrene’s state prison term was up, Miami immigration authorities in October 2010 released him from custody. Two months later, North Miami police say, he slaughtered three people, including a 15-year-old girl in a murder case that remains as baffling today as it did the afternoon the bodies were discovered.
DNA on a rifle found inside the house and cellphone tracking technology later linked Dufrene to the Jan. 2, 2011, slayings.
But North Miami detectives never got to interrogate him. Just 18 days after the murders, Dufrene shot and killed himself when he was cornered by Manatee County sheriff’s deputies in Bradenton after an unrelated break-in and shooting there.
The episode is a black eye for U.S. authorities, who by law could not detain Dufrene indefinitely after the Obama administration ordered a temporary halt of deportations to the island nation. The deportations were halted because of the carnage wrought by Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake.
“Because of the moratorium on removals to Haiti in effect when Dufrene came into ICE custody, his removal to Haiti was not likely in the reasonably foreseeable future,” an Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman said in a statement Friday.
For North Miami detectives, the case remains an enigma. Dufrene, a drifter who lived in Manatee County, had no connection to the North Miami house, the family or the South Florida area other than his brief stay at the Krome detention center in West Miami-Dade.
“Although a subject has been identified in this case, I believe someone else or several people could be involved with him in this homicide,” said North Miami police Detective Stacina Jones, the lead detective.
The failure to deport Dufrene infuriates the victims’ family members. “This guy shouldn’t have been in America,” said Audrey Hansack, 37, who moved back to her native Nicaragua after the murder of her daughter Ashley Chow. “I’m so upset with the whole situation. Because of immigration, my daughter is not alive.”
Ashley, a North Miami High School student who aspired to become a lawyer, lived in the house in the 400 block of Northwest 134th Street. Her mother owned the house, and rented an attached efficiency to a family friend, Harlen Peralta, 25, and her boyfriend, Israel Rincon, 35.
Peralta worked at a beauty salon. Rincon, who had recently separated from his wife of 10 years, coached youth baseball.
“His love was baseball. In his free time, he would train kids for no charge,” said Alicia Rincon, his former wife. “He was hoping that one day one of his kids would go to the major leagues.”
It was on Jan. 2, 2011, that worried relatives called police to check on the family. About 3:30 p.m., officers and paramedics entered the house to discover the gruesome scene — all three shot to death.
The murders baffled investigators. At first, they suspected the deaths might have been a murder-suicide, but the crime-scene evidence did not back up that theory.
Other clues were just as puzzling. Detectives suspected the killings took place between 3 and 6 a.m., but neighbors reported no sounds of gunfire. As the sun rose, a mysterious man knocked on a bleary-eyed neighbor’s door and asked for directions to a Metrorail station.
Initially, North Miami police did not find a weapon in the house, but family members later discovered a rifle — which did not belong to anyone in the house — wrapped in a towel and hidden under a mattress.
Two months later, Miami-Dade’s police laboratory notified North Miami detectives that the rifle had tested positive for the DNA of two of the victims and of Dufrene, 23.
Dufrene, a native of Haiti, had a long history of arrests in Manatee County — nine in all, his first at age 14 for battery on a teacher.
In February 2006, Dufrene was on probation for stealing a car when he was rearrested, this time for burglary. He was found hiding in a bedroom closet in a vacant house in Manatee County. Neighbors wrestled him down and held him until police arrived. Dufrene claimed he was cold and looking for shelter.
In July 2006, deputies again arrested him after a homeowner surprised him inside another Manatee County home. Five months later, Dufrene pleaded guilty to one of the burglaries and violating probation, and was sentenced to five years in prison.
In August 2007, records show, a U.S. immigration judge ordered him deported. He was released from state prison in September 2010, and handed over to immigration custody at West Miami-Dade’s Krome Detention Center.
The federal government annually deported hundreds of Haitians convicted of felonies in the United States.
But after the devastating January 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the Obama administration announced it was indefinitely halting deportations to the country.
“Under binding Supreme Court precedent, ICE’s authority to detain any individual is limited when the removal of that individual is not likely in the reasonably foreseeable future,” the immigration agency’s statement said.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2001 and 2005 that foreign nationals who cannot be deported may not be held in detention longer than six months. Deportations resumed in mid-January 2011 — three months after Dufrene was released from custody under ICE supervision. The agency did not specify what that supervision entailed.
ICE did not say how many convicted criminals like Dufrene were put back on the streets during the moratorium.
Police believed Dufrene’s mother picked him up in South Florida, bringing him back to Bradenton, where he promptly disappeared again. At that time, he was using a cellphone paid for by his mother, police said.
On the last day of 2010, cellphone records showed, that phone was used in Bradenton. The next day, however, Dufrene used the phone in North Miami — around the time the murders were believed to have taken place.
“The mystery is, how did he get here?” Detective Jones said. “And why did he choose this house?”
The records also showed that Dufrene returned to the Bradenton area the next day, as detectives back in North Miami were discovering the dead bodies. That night, Jan. 2, 2011, someone broke into a Sarasota house, stole a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver and test fired one bullet into a mattress.
The revolver would not go missing for long. According to Manatee County deputies, on Jan. 19, 2011, a shotgun-wielding Bradenton resident, Lance Harden, surprised Dufrene breaking into a neighbor’s house.
Dufrene shot Harden in the shoulder, swiped the man’s shotgun and ran away. Harden survived. The Manatee SWAT team cornered the man in Dufrene’s father’s home not far away.
By then it was too late. Deputies found Dufrene on the floor of the master bedroom, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Detectives back in North Miami were left with more questions than answers.
Dufrene had a history of breaking into homes, but was the North Miami house even his target? Did someone send him to the house?
The rifle used in the killings had not been reported stolen, and there were no records of who owned it. Dufrene probably stashed it under the mattress to avoid being seen in the breaking daylight fleeing with the long weapon. But then, who gave him the weapon?
Relatives of the dead say they want answers.
“I honestly don’t think he acted alone,” said Alicia Rincon, Israel’s former wife. “It’s very strange how he got there. Out of all the houses in Miami, why did he end up there?”