TAMPA — A man already in jail on a murder charge was accused Monday of killing someone else just days earlier, setting that victim's vehicle ablaze to try to conceal the body inside.
Investigators say the two killings in March shared a link: a getaway driver in one was a victim of the other.
Jason Smith, 30, of Tampa was charged Monday with second-degree murder, arson, fraudulent use of a credit card and grand theft of a motor vehicle in the killing of Heriberto Cortes, 28.
Early March 3, Hillsborough County Fire Rescue was called to douse a Nissan Pathfinder on fire in an orange grove near Tampa. After putting out the fire, crews discovered a body inside. It was identified as Cortes, from Tampa.
Later that day, Cortes' girlfriend discovered his apartment had been ransacked and reported him missing. A friend told investigators he had seen Cortes' sport utility vehicle at a convenience store, but that two strangers were driving it.
Detectives reviewed Cortes' phone records and found the phone had been used after his death. One call, detectives said, went to a relative of someone who was killed about the same time.
With the help of Tampa police Detective Danny Rhodes, investigators began looking at the killing of Michael Smith Ayuso.
Ayuso, 39, had been shot and killed March 6 in a parking lot at Florida and Kentucky avenues.
The shooting was captured on a surveillance camera, and Smith was charged in that killing.
Investigators reviewed security video and transactions from the convenience store where Cortes' SUV had been seen, at Himes and Waters avenues.
They identified one of the men as Smith. Authorities identified the second man at the store as Evelio Oliveras, who told investigators he had noticed a sheet covering an object in the SUV when Smith picked him up.
At the store, Oliveras said he bought cigars and Smith got two jugs of gasoline. When Oliveras asked what the gas was for, according to investigators, Smith said he planned to burn the SUV because it belonged to someone who owed him money.
Once the SUV was at the field and on fire, it was Ayuso who gave Smith and Oliveras a ride.
Investigators later searched Smith's girlfriend's car, where they found Smith's sneakers smeared with blood. A DNA test linked it to Cortes.