Thursday, April 12, 2007
Posted on Thu, Apr. 12, 2007
BY SUSANNAH A. NESMITH
Michael Hernandez didn't cry or stutter or show any sign of nerves as he described for a detective how he donned latex gloves and killed a friend in a middle school bathroom stall.
''I took the knife out and I proceeded to slit his throat,'' the 14-year-old explained. That first wound wasn't fatal.
''He turned around after I did that and asked me not to kill him,'' he continued. 'So I told him, `All right. I'm not going to if you cooperate.' That was a lie.''
Then Hernandez said he locked the stall door and stabbed Jaime Gough, who was also 14, in the neck, cutting an artery. The two friends were eighth-graders at Southwood Middle School at the time of the February 2004 killing.
Hernandez's taped confession to Miami-Dade detective Salvatore Garafalo was played in court Wednesday, with Jaime's parents listening in the audience.
Jaime's mother put her head in her hands and silently wept when she heard her son had asked not to be killed. Jaime's father stared at the floor.
Across the courtroom, Hernandez's mother covered her mouth with her hand as she listened to her only son describe in almost clinical detail how and why he killed Jaime.
''How did you know he was dead?'' Garafalo asked.
''I made sure by taking my knife and poking him in the face, and I checked his eyes also,'' Hernandez responded.
Hernandez noted that he slashed Jaime's throat ''from left to right'' and that ``there was blood coming from his mouth to the right of the toilet and there was blood on the walls.''
Afterward, Hernandez washed Jaime's blood off his hands and face in another bathroom then went back to the second-floor bathroom to retrieve a ring that had dropped out of his pocket ''because I value my jewelry,'' he said.
Garafalo asked him how long he had planned the killing: ``A little over a week.''
He told Garafalo he had gotten his mother to buy him latex gloves by telling her he would get extra credit on a science project if he had them.
The detective questioned Hernandez on and off for hours the day of the grisly murder.
Hernandez gave various stories before finally confessing, Garafalo testified. At first, Hernandez told him that blood on his shirt was his own. He said he had run into a door.
He also suggested that Jaime might have been killed because he owed someone money.
His most bizarre story was about an imaginary child named Sangre. He told Garafalo that Sangre asked him to lure Jaime to the second-floor bathroom and that he held Jaime while Sangre killed him.
Later he admitted the Sangre story was a lie. Garafalo asked him why he named the imaginary child Sangre.
''Because I said he was Hispanic and I said he was part of a gang and sangre in Spanish means blood, so I thought that would be a decent gang name,'' Hernandez calmly explained.
The detective asked why he chose Jaime: ``He was the easiest out of anybody because I knew he would've followed me because we were such good friends. I knew he would do what I said.''
''Is there any reason why you did this?'' Garafalo asked.
''No, there's not,'' Hernandez said.
Later Garafalo asked ``Do you know what you did is wrong?''
''Yes I do,'' the boy responded.
''Are you sorry that this happened today?'' the detective continued.
''No, I'm not,'' Hernandez said, his voice flat.
Hernandez's attorney, Richard Rosenbaum, is asking Circuit Judge John Schleshinger to throw out the confession because he says Hernandez is mentally ill and didn't understand his right not to talk to authorities.
''You have a 14-year-old boy who's mentally ill and a statement is taken from him, a sworn statement, without his parents being present, without an attorney present,'' Rosenbaum said, during a break in court.
Garafalo testified that when he started to read Hernandez his Miranda rights, the boy interrupted him to matter-of-factly say that he had learned about them in civics class, he said.
Rosenbaum said that while Hernandez is gifted, he is also schizophrenic and psychotic.
''Michael was in training to be a serial killer,'' Rosenbaum added.
In December 2004, another judge acknowledged that Hernandez is mentally ill but ruled him competent to stand trial.
Throughout the two-day hearing, Hernandez has sat in the jury box in a brown jumpsuit without showing any emotion, sometimes looking bored and staring at the courtroom ceiling. He has grown into a lanky teenager in the three years he has spent in jail since the February 2004 killing.
During a break in the hearing, his mother pleaded her son's case.
''I think all parents should be concerned because seasoned police officers can take your child and question him for hours and hours without calling you, take him from school,'' Kathy Hernandez said.
Hernandez is charged as an adult with first-degree murder and faces life in prison if he's convicted. Kathy Hernandez said she wants him to get treatment for his mental illness, not go to prison.
''It's very difficult to be here,'' she said.
"I'm very sorry for the Gough family. I don't understand why they're putting any of us through this.''
The Goughs have settled out of court with the Miami-Dade School Board. The school agreed to pay the family $750,000 and support the Goughs' bill of claims for $1 million, which is before the Florida Legislature right now, according to the family's attorney, Gregg Schwartz.
''For some reason, it hasn't been put on the agenda,'' Schwartz said.
Testimony is expected to continue in the criminal case today.