Twist could derail case of teen murdered while surveillance camera rolled

The teens charged in the Miami Gardens murder of 17-year-old Roderick Sweeting: From left to right: Rachid Jacques, 16, Devon Vickers, 15, and Quarmaine McMillan, 16.
The teens charged in the Miami Gardens murder of 17-year-old Roderick Sweeting: From left to right: Rachid Jacques, 16, Devon Vickers, 15, and Quarmaine McMillan, 16. Miami Herald

The case against three teens accused of gunning down a Miami Gardens student in a daylight ambush has taken a twist with a key eyewitness suddenly backtracking.

That eyewitness is the younger brother of 17-year-old Roderick Sweeting, the American High student whose April murder was partially captured on surveillance video. In a newly released sworn statement, the teen witness said he lied to police in identifying two of the three young men awaiting trial for Roderick’s murder.

Defense lawyers will now go to court Thursday to ask a judge to grant bail to the teenage trio.

“It shows that their case is totally baseless. They have no direct evidence and the circumstantial evidence they have is shaky at best,” said attorney Jordan Lewin, who represents accused gunman Rachid “Roach” Jacques, 16.

Roderick’s murder was one in a series of a violent killings of young people that have plagued Miami-Dade County over the past year.

For Miami-Dade prosecutors, the frustration is a familiar one. It is not unusual for witnesses involved in gang cases to suddenly change their stories. Roderick’s 15-year-old younger brother claimed that he only named two of the gunmen after hearing their names from someone else who was at the crime scene.

“I seen what happened, but I couldn’t see their faces,” the teen told Miami-Dade prosecutors on June 14.

He insisted that he was not paid off or threatened into changing his testimony.

Charged in the case: Jacques, Quarmaine “Qua” McMillan, 16, and and Devon Vickers, 15, whom prosecutors believe targeted the Sweeting brothers because of a long-running gang feud.

Prosecutors nevertheless plan to press on. Another witness has since identified Jacques as one of the gunmen. The state also has a video of the trio alone in a police interrogation room supposedly discussing the murder.

“We fully believe in our case and are going forward with the prosecution.,” said Ed Griffith, a spokesman for the State Attorney’s Office.

At a hearing earlier this month, Miami-Dade prosecutors said the trio hid in wait for Roderick and his brother as they walked home after being dropped off by the school bus on the 17600 block of Northwest 25th Avenue.

The grainy surveillance video, taken from a nearby tattoo shop, shows one of the suspects hiding between mailboxes just before emerging with the weapon and opening fire on Roderick’s younger brother. The two others run up on Roderick and begin shooting; the killing itself is obscured by a tree.

The video – which was played in court earlier this month – shows the gunmen hopping an aluminum fence. One fingerprint found on the fence matched Vickers, of Miami Gardens. In the footage, the gunmen are too far away to be identified by face.

Sweeting suffered 20 gunshot wounds, some of which were fired as he “was defenseless lying on the ground,” according to Miami Gardens police.

Investigators believe McMillan, Jacques and Vickers belong to a gang known as the Cloverleaf Boyz, and targeted Sweeting as part of their feud with another gang called 7 Block.

Roderick’s younger brother survived the attack and cooperated with police detectives. He said he “had no doubt” that McMillan, Jacques and Vickers were the attackers, according to an arrest warrant.

But the brother backtracked, saying he only identified McMillan and Jacques after hearing their names from another witness. As for Vickers, who is alleged to have targeted him in the ambush, the eyewitness said he remains confident, but is not 100 percent sure of his identity.

“I don’t want to lie about something that – I felt like if I was to lie about it then I wouldn’t feel right, so that’s why I’m telling y’all that I’m not actually totally sure,” the brother said.