A grand jury will be asked to issue an indictment for first-degree premeditated murder in the case of four ex-Homestead Job Corps students charged with the vicious machete killing of 17-year-old Jose Amaya Guardado.
An indictment means defendants Kaheem Arbelo, Desiray Strickland, Christian Colon and Jonathan Lucas will be eligible for the death penalty.
The announcement, made in court by a prosecutor on Monday, was not unexpected. Miami-Dade detectives say the group planned the grotesque murder, even digging a grave two days before Jose was hacked to death in June.
The hearing Monday was for Strickland, 18, who appeared before the trial judge for the first time for an arraignment.
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The slender teen, cupping an inhaler, did not say anything in court. She sat, armed crossed, wearing a red jumpsuit designated for high-profile inmates.
The case will be presented to the grand jury next month as the panel reconvenes for the fall, Miami-Dade prosecutor Alejandra Lopez told the judge.
Authorities say Arbelo, Strickland and the others conspired for two weeks to kill Jose, a fellow student at the federally run residential school for at-risk youth in South Miami-Dade.
Law enforcement sources have told the Miami Herald that the killing may have stemmed from a debt owed to Arbelo, 20, and that the accused students were known as bullies at the campus.
Jose’s shocking murder in June has drawn increased scrutiny on Job Corps, which operates 125 campuses across the country and falls under the U.S. Department of Labor. The program helps at-risk people between the ages of 16 and 24 earn their high-school degrees and learn vocational skills.
After the arrests, federal authorities suspended fall classes at the Homestead campus as they review operating procedures at the school.
Lawmakers have called for increased oversight at Job Corps, which has been the subject of several audits calling into question safety and proper supervision at the schools.
Jose went missing from the Homestead campus in June, only to be found by his brother buried in the shallow grave in the woods near the campus. He had been hacked so viciously that “his face caved in,” according to a police report.
Strickland and Arbelo, according to police, had sex in the woods after the group cleaned up the crime scene and buried the dead teen.