A Haitian man detained in the Florida slaying of his wife and their five children said Monday that he returned to his native Caribbean nation "to say goodbye to my family."
Mesac Damas, 33, who was captured Monday morning near a low-budget hotel in Haiti's capital, told the Associated Press in an interview at the police station that he had planned to surrender.
"I was going to turn myself in. You see I've got my suit on and everything," Damas said as police led him from a back room where he was interrogated to a jail cell.
Damas' wife, Guerline, and their three boys and two girls, ages 11 months to 9 years, were found dead in their townhouse Saturday night. A relative said investigators told the family that the victims' throats had been cut.
Just days earlier, a Department of Children and Families caseworker assigned to the family had made an unannounced visit to the apartment and noted in a report that the children seemed healthy and safe. Mesac Damas was home and dinner was cooked.
On Friday, Damas drove his GMC Yukon Denali to Miami International Airport and boarded a flight to Port-au-Prince. Monday morning, Damas was hiding in a house next door to a low-budget motel when he was captured by a motorcycle unit of the national police, police spokesman Frantz Lerebours said. He declined to say how police found Damas.
Wearing a blue suit over a white T-shirt, Damas was interrogated at the police station near the Port-au-Prince airport with his hands restrained behind his back by plastic ties. As he was later escorted down a hallway to the jail cell, his eyes were puffy and he shouted that he did not want anyone to touch him.
"I don't want no pain, no suffering," he said.
Damas, a Naples restaurant cook, is believed to be a dual Haitian and American citizen. Records indicate he moved to the United States in the late '90s. It is not clear exactly when he became a U.S. citizen.
Although Haiti's constitution does not allow the extradition of the country's citizens, experts say Damas could soon end up in U.S. custody anyway.
Despite the constitutional ban on extradition, "in the past Haitians under indictment in the U.S. have been returned to the U.S. by non-extradition means," according to a 2008 State Department report on counter-drug cooperation.
"I expect he will be expelled in short order," said Corwin Noble, a security expert based in the neighboring Dominican Republic. "The level of cooperation between Haiti and the U.S. is very good these days."
In a statement, Collier County sheriff's officials said they were working with the FBI to "determine the appropriate international arrangements for (Collier County) detectives to travel to Haiti to interview (Damas)."
Cooperation has led to numerous expulsions of Haitian citizens in recent years. In 2007 alone, nine Haitian fugitives were sent to the United States, including a former Haitian police officer on drug and money laundering charges.
In one recent case, three Haitians arrested on charges of conspiring to kidnap an American teenager in Haiti voluntarily agreed to be transferred to U.S. custody after spending 18 months in jail in Haiti. During their trial, an FBI agent who visited the prison described deplorable conditions of filth, disease and overcrowding. Prisonersreceive one meal a day and were wearing the same clothes they were arrested in.
When asked if there was anything they wanted to say before their sentencings last week, all three asked not to be sent back to Haiti.
At a news conference Monday, Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk said the killings were "the most horrific and violent scene that our community has ever experienced," in the 30 years he has worked for the county.
It was a shocking contrast to the scene described by the DCF worker only days before during the unannounced dinner-time visit. According to the caseworker, the toddler was wearing a sundress and playing with her doll while the older daughter, dressed in pink, asked the caseworker if she had brought her a pink book bag because she was going to school next year. The boys were in T-shirts and shorts and the worker didn't see any bruises or marks.
Damas had a history of violence against his wife that had terrified his young children. Relatives of Guerline Damas, 32, said her husband was a "loose cannon" who would take away his wife's cell phone and be rude to her family.
But the family didn't know Guerline was being abused until January, when Mesac Damas was arrested and charged with misdemeanor battery after he hit his wife as she held their baby daughter in her arms. According to DCF records, he choked her and ripped her shirt off.
"As this is occurring, the child slipped out of the mother's hand and fell to the floor," the report said.
In interviews, the other children, who were outside playing at the time of the incident, described seeing their parents fight regularly. The oldest said he would try to corral the children in the bedroom during the abuse.
"When he tries to call 911, dad hits him on the hand or in the head," the file noted.
The couple separated for two months as Guerline sought counseling at an abused women's shelter. But she was overwhelmed at the prospect of raising the children alone and she urged that the restraining order against her husband be lifted.
Mesac Damas was sentenced to 12 months of probation, and in April he moved back home. Caseworkers noted that the situation appeared to be improving. The caseworker described observing a "loving relationship" between the father and the children. "This clinician believes that this family will be a solid unit once again."
That optimistic tone continued right up until the killings.
Mesac Damas was due to finish a court-ordered battery intervention course in November.
"There is no safety concern," the file reads. "Children are doing fine."
Information from the Associated Press and Times news researcher Will Short Gorham was used in this report. David Adams can be reached at email@example.com or (305) 361-6393.