Drifter’s role in 1982 Florida killing remains murky

MIAMI BEACH -- For 12 years, homeless drifter Marko Dukanovic languished in state psychiatric hospitals while accused of the vicious stabbing murder of a prominent Miami Beach photographer.

It was not until earlier this year that the prosecutor in the case noticed a glaring error in the evidence: Dukanovic’s DNA was not on the murder weapon, as authorities had originally alleged.

And so in January, the state dropped the murder charge against Dukanovic, 44, who has returned to New Jersey, just outside Atlantic City, to live with his mother.

Amid the steady churn of high-profile cases in South Florida over the past decade, Dukanovic’s story -- and the murder of photographer Andy Sweet -- has been largely forgotten in the public eye.

One man initially arrested in 1982, Jesus Ortiz, was acquitted at trial in 1983. A second man, John Edward Taylor, after conviction and a successful appeal, took a plea bargain and walked out of prison in January 2002.

In 1982, Sweet’s murder was big news. He was the 28-year-old son of a retired municipal judge.

He was renown for his photos chronicling the lives of South Beach’s elderly.

His death was brutal and bloody. On Oct. 16, 1982, Sweet’s body was found inside his Miami Beach apartment, covered with a mattress. He was stabbed 30 times with a butcher knife and a screwdriver.

Miami Beach police soon arrested Ortiz and Taylor, alleging they killed Sweet in an apparent cocaine rip-off. At separate trials, the men blamed each other.

Two men installing a burglar alarm for Sweet saw men resembling Ortiz and Taylor entering the apartment, and Ortiz’s fingerprints were found on a beer bottle and a pack of cigarettes inside the bedroom.

Ortiz first denied to Miami Beach police ever being at the apartment. At trial, he testified he went to the apartment but left after watching TV for 15 minutes. Jurors found him not guilty.

Taylor was convicted of felony murder for participating in the robbery and was sentenced to life. He vowed to beat the charge. In 1998, an appeals court overturned the conviction. He later pleaded guilty and agreed to a 25-year prison term. He was released in 2002.

As prosecutors prepared for Taylor’s second trial, Miami-Dade’s crime lab ran DNA found at the scene through law enforcement databases. The technology was unavailable when the murder happened in 1982. The surprise hit came back to Dukanovic, a young drifter who had bounced around the country after leaving New Jersey as a teen.

His blood DNA was found on two shirts, a towel and a butcher knife found inside the apartment. At the time, police said the presence of a third man was a surprise. In 1999, Miami Beach detectives traveled to New Jersey to interview Dukanovic.

Dukanovic was brought to Miami-Dade to stand trial, but almost immediately, a judge ruled him incompetent.

Dukanovic’s statements to police have been wildly inconsistent.