They killed with machete, cops say. Now judge mulls blocking confessions from hearing

Desiray Strickland, 19, and four others are charged with murdering South Dade Jobs Corp student Jose Amaya Guardado
Desiray Strickland, 19, and four others are charged with murdering South Dade Jobs Corp student Jose Amaya Guardado Miami Herald Staff

A Miami-Dade judge is reconsidering a decision to keep secret the videotaped confessions of two accused killers in the sensational South Dade murder of an at-risk youth.

Defense attorneys want the judge to take the confessions into account during a bond hearing, but they don’t want the videos played in court.

Circuit Judge Cristina Miranda had initially granted a defense request to keep the state from making the confessions public. But Circuit Judge Dava J. Tunis, who has taken over the case while Miranda is on maternity leave, agreed to hear arguments from state prosecutors and two media outlets that opposed the motion by attorneys representing Desiray Strickland, 19, Michael Cabrera, 24, and Jonathan Lucas, 19.

The attorneys for the five accused of murdering Jose Amaya Guardado, 17, say that making public the videotapes of the confessions could taint members of a potential jury pool, compromising a fair trial.

“You can’t have [a fair trial] if media wants access to evidence,” Kellie Peterson, the court-appointed attorney for suspected ringleader Kaheem Arbelo, told the judge Thursday.

The media outlets opposing the motion, the Miami Herald and WPLG Channel 10, say the public has the right to know what evidence the judge considers that could potentially be used to release two accused murderers from jail.

“It’s hard to imagine, short of trial, what type of pre-trial hearing can be more important,” Miami Herald attorney Scott Ponce told the judge.

Tunis said she will issue her decision next week.

In September 2015, a grand jury indicted Strickland, Cabrera, Arbelo, Christian Colon and Jonathan Lucas for the savage murder of bespectacled fellow Homestead Job Corps student Jose Amaya Guardado. Each was charged with first-degree murder and could face the death penalty.

Guardado was savagely beaten and hacked to death with a machete, then buried in a shallow grave in the woods. When his brother found him, his face had been beaten so badly it caved in, police said. According to the police report, after the murder, Strickland and Arbelo had sex in the woods.

Detectives say the group spent weeks plotting to kill Guardado, a fellow student at the federally funded school for at-risk youth. Police believe the group agreed to kill Guardado over a debt he owed Arbelo.

Strickland’s arrest report said she “complained that she had missed the first series of machete strikes because she had walked away for a few minutes to urinate in the woods.”

In a video of her interrogation released last month — in which she does not confess — Strickland repeatedly tells police she is innocent. She becomes hysterical and pushes a police officer. Then, after the officer leaves the room, Strickland is seen in the video removing screws from an electrical socket and attempting to pick the lock on her handcuffs.

When that fails, the video shows her scratching “MPD go to hell” into a table.