Granting bail to a Canadian teenager charged in a double killing that left his brother dead is too risky given the possibility he could easily flee the United States, a Florida judge ruled Wednesday.
In opting to keep 15-year-old Marc Wabafiyebazu behind bars pending trial, Circuit Judge Teresa Pooler also said she couldn’t rely on his mother, Canada’s consul general in Miami, to keep proper tabs on him.
“She was not aware of the amount of time they skipped school,” Pooler said. “She did not know where they obtained guns.”
Roxanne Dube declined to comment after the decision to keep her son incarcerated.
Last week, Dube, who is currently on sick leave, told Pooler she could be trusted to supervise her son, saying she had no doubt he is innocent. But she also testified she didn’t know her sons skipped school or seemed to have access to large amounts of cash.
Pooler also said it would be near impossible to extradite the Ottawa teen, who is charged as an adult, should he flee to Canada before a trial that could put him behind bars for life.
For one thing, she said, Canada doesn’t recognize the felony murder charge he faces and might be reluctant to return him given the potential life sentence — which could not happen under the Canada’s young offender system.
“It seems to me it is highly unlikely that the United States would ever be able to bring him back,” the judge said.
Pooler said she found Officer Juan Velez, on whose evidence much of the case against Wabafiyebazu rests, to be credible. Velez has told the court he was driving the accused to a detention centre when the teen spontaneously blurted out a detailed confession — a scenario the defence pilloried as unbelievable.
Wabafiyebazu was arrested March 30 outside an apartment in which his 18-year-old brother Jean Wabafiyebazu and another man, Joshua Wright, 17, were shot dead. Two other men, including an alleged drug dealer, were injured.
According to the alleged dealer, Anthony Rodriguez, the elder sibling drew a gun instead of handing over cash for about 800 grams of marijuana, resulting in an exchange of gunfire between the victims.
Velez, a rookie cop, said Wabafiyebazu’s statement from the back seat of a police cruiser included an assertion the brothers had done a drug “rip” many times before and this was a “job gone wrong.” The youth also said he had shot at Rodriguez’s car, Velez told court.
Several key details of the purported confession were simply wrong, including the fact that Wabafiyebazu never fired at the car — as shown by video surveillance evidence.
The prosecution does not allege the accused brother shot anyone — or even threatened anyone — but Florida law allows for the felony murder charge if he was part of the armed robbery that resulted in the homicides.
Prosecutor Marie Mato used Wabafiyebazu’s alleged statements to impugn his innocence, saying he knew exactly what was planned.
“He was there to assist his brother in the rip,” Mato said. “He’s in on it from beginning to end.”
The defence argued Wabafiyebazu, who has pleaded not guilty, had no role in the robbery and had simply tagged along with his brother.
Florida law makes the felony charge a presumptive non-bail offence but Wabafiyebazu was able to try for interim release at an “Arthur” hearing — essentially a mini-trial.
Defence lawyer Curt Obront said he would now prepare for trial, currently set for July, although the expectation is it will be delayed.
“We’re disappointed,” Obront said of the bail decision. “We still have faith in our case and our client.”
Wabafiyebazu faces felony murder and other charges as an adult in a March 30 shootout that killed his older brother and another teenager.
Police say the slayings happened after the Wabafiyebazu brothers tried to rob marijuana dealers.
Marc Wabafiyebazu has pleaded not guilty.
His mother says she is convinced he is innocent and had insisted she would ensure he remained in the U.S. if released.