Opening statements in Jeremy Macauley’s double murder trial by his attorney Tuesday reveal the defense will try to convince jurors that Macauley is innocent, and twin brothers Adrian and Kristian Demblans, well-known in the Upper Keys illicit drug scene, killed Tara Rosado and Carlos Ortiz on Oct. 15, 2015, inside Rosado’s Tavernier home.
Macauley, 34, is charged with first-degree murder and armed robbery. Prosecutors say Adrian Demblans drove him to Rosado’s Cuba Road house, where the men knew Ortiz was staying that night, and Macauley went inside and shot them once each in the head with a .45-caliber pistol. Rosado’s three young children —ages 3, 4 and 8 at the time — were in the house that night and were found by a neighbor the next afternoon physically unharmed.
“There was a lengthy investigation. There was a weapon found. There was a murderer found,” Chief Assistant State Attorney Brian Fernandes told jurors Tuesday afternoon in the Plantation Key courthouse. “And, he’s sitting here in the courtroom.”
But Macauley’s attorney, Ed O’Donnell, Sr., accused detectives of arresting Macauley to fit their original theory in the case, and the Demblans brothers, both 35, killed the couple to silence Ortiz, who they considered a snitch, and as a power grab in a drug dealing operation. O’Donnell told jurors several people will testify that Macauley never left his house that night in Key Largo, where he lives with his wife and children.
“They had their theory, and they had their arrest, and that was all they were interested in,” O’Donnell said. “You don’t start with a theory, as was done with this case, and arrest an innocent man.”
O’Donnell also said at least two people who did time in county jail with Adrian and Kristian Demblans will testify during the trial that the brothers told them they carried out the hit on Ortiz and subsequently murdered Rosado.
Monroe County Sheriff’s Office detectives and prosecutors say Ortiz, 30, was targeted by Macauley and Adrian Demblans because he was trying to extort money from Macauley and Macauley’s boss, charter fishing boat captain Rick Rodriguez. According to the state’s case, Macauley found more than 12 kilograms of cocaine offshore while working his day job as a mate on Rodriguez’s Sea Horse boat the summer prior to the murders and decided to bring it back to shore, divvy it up and sell it with his friends, including Adrian Demblans and Ortiz.
Fast forward a couple of months later, however, and Ortiz turned on his friend, demanding, thousands of dollars or a kilo of the coke, or else he was going to the police about the contraband. Fernandez said Macauley, in his mind, had two choices.
“Pay up to Carlos or silence Carlos,” said Fernandes. “The evidence will show he decided on the latter. He decided to silence Carlos while children slept.”
Rosado, according to the state’s case, was killed simply for witnessing her boyfriends’ murder. Graphic crime scene photographs were presented to jurors during Tuesday’s hearing showing the couple’s bodies in between their bed and a vanity lying in large pools of wet, but drying, blood.
The robbery charge stems from Macauley and Demblans going back inside the house together following the shootings and grabbing Ortiz’s cell phone, Fernandez said. The phone contained text messages from Ortiz to Macauley and Rodriguez threatening to go to the police about the cocaine. The phone also contained photographs of Macauley with what appears to be the cocaine and a gun, prosecutors say.
“He needed to get rid of the phone, to get rid of the evidence,” Fernandes said. “They found the phone, left the residence together and left the dead bodies of Tara Rosado and Carlos Ortiz and left the kids in the house.”
The phone also contained messages from Macauley saying he was going to pay Ortiz the money, which was never his intention, Fernandes said.
“He texted Carlos with pictures of stacks of money to lure Carlos into a sense of security, a false sense of security,” Fernandes said. “Within minutes, two shots. Two people dead. Shot in their home. Shot in the head.”
Sheriff’s Office divers found the phone and a snorkeler found the pistol in a Key Largo canal near where Demblans lived at the time. Prosecutors say Macauley and Demblans threw it in the water after driving away from Rosado’s house.
Demblans was charged with accessory after the fact of a capital felony the same month Macauley was arrested and charged — March 2016. He made a deal with prosecutors earlier this year to plead guilty and testify in open court against Macauley in exchange for a 10-year prison sentence. He faced 30 years if he took his chances with a jury.
O’Donnell acknowledged that his client found the cocaine, but he said he didn’t know how to unload it on the streets, so he enlisted the help of his friends, including the Demblans brothers, a Key Largo man named Enos Mitchell and Ortiz.
“He did find some drugs. He knew nothing how to distribute them,” O’Donnell told jurors. “They knew how to do it. Jeremy didn’t. He continued to work on the Sea Horse.”
O’Donnell also said the pistol used in the murder no longer belonged to Macauley when Ortiz and Rosado were killed. Macauley sold it to Demblans because he felt the gun was too heavy, and he “was in the market” for a lighter weapon, O’Donnell said. A neighbor sold him a smaller pistol, which is seen in the photograph of Macauley posing with the cocaine, taken months before the murders. O’Donnell argues this shows Macauley no longer owned the .45 used to shoot the couple.
“He had nothing to do with that weapon,” he said.
Macauley eventually got rid of his newer handgun too because his wife didn’t want it around the house with the kids, and because she knew it was illegal for Macauley to own a firearm since he’s a convicted felon, O’Donnell said.
“Jeremy is a convicted felon, as is most everyone who is going to testify in this case,” he said.
O’Donnell painted a picture of the Demblans twins as habitual offenders and “dyed in the wool” heroin addicts who commit crimes together and go to great lengths to lie for one another. Current and former county jail inmates with nothing to gain in exchange for testifying and who don’t know each other, according to O’Donnell, gave sworn statements that the brothers took credit for the murders.
Eric “Bama” Lansford, gave prosecutors and Sheriff’s Office detectives a sworn statement in October 2016 that Kristian Demblans, who was just arrested on heroin- and cocaine-dealing charges at the time, told him while they were locked up together a month earlier that he was the one who shot Rosado and Ortiz. Lansford said Kristian Demblans told him his brother was going “up the road for him.”
At the time Lansford gave his statement, he was a month from being released from jail on a burglary sentence and is now living back in Alabama.
O’Donnell also said Lansford will return to the Keys and testify that Kristian Demblans told him in September 2016 “my brother is going to take a deal for 10 years.” Adrian Demblans didn’t agree to rollover on Macauley until April 2017.
“That was what Adrian Demblans got to a T in exchange for his testimony,” O’Donnell said. “It didn’t come right away.”
Kristian Demblans pleaded guilty to several cocaine and heroin dealing counts in March, and Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, who is presiding over the Macauley trial, sentenced him to two years in state prison.
Another inmate three weeks ago gave a sworn statement that Adrian Demblans told him he committed the murders, but said “he had to throw ‘Fatboy Jeremy’ under the bus,” O’Donnell said.
The one common thread in both inmates’ statements, according to O’Donnell, is they said they came forward because both brothers, in claiming credit for the murders, said, “If those kids walked in, I’d have killed them too.”
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204