Miami-Dade police detectives have arrested two St. Petersburg men in the killing of Michael Zaldua, a Florida International University student who was fatally shot inside a parking garage near the school in December 2016.
The men, Donterio Fowler, 26, and Keondre Fields, 23, were booked into the Pinellas County jail on Monday. They will be extradited to Miami-Dade to await trial on first-degree murder charges.
Fowler is the brother of Atlanta Falcons NFL linebacker and former Lakewood High School star Dante Fowler, who is not accused of any wrongdoing.
Donterio Fowler’s defense lawyer, Michael Grieco, issued a statement declaring the arrest unwarranted.
“We are anxiously awaiting young Donterio’s transfer to Miami so we can secure his swift release,” Grieco said. “Although little information is currently available, the one thing I am certain of is that Mr. Fowler has committed no crime.”
Court documents in the case suggest the murder resulted from a drug deal gone awry.
According to a press release by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, investigators discovered cash scattered around Zaldua’s body, a loaded Glock magazine near his body and a gun inside his pocket. A tire impression was also found in blood.
“A subsequent search of the victim’s car revealed several large size Ziploc bags containing suspect marijuana and a small baggie of suspect cocaine,” the release said. “Additional evidence was gathered since the homicide and supplemented the original investigation, leading to the charging of Fowler and Fields.”
According to arrest warrants filed in Miami-Dade circuit court, blood found on the bottom of Fowler’s black 2014 Dodge Charger matched the DNA of Zaldua, the victim. A spent 9 mm casing was later found inside the trunk. Video surveillance showed the Charger entering the parking garage, along with a white Audi A4, believed driven by a third man involved in the incident, warrants said.
In the days before the murder, police said, Zaldua’s phone also had been calling Fowler’s cell. The account was registered in the name of Dante Fowler, police said, but the phone was actually used by his brother, who had listed it on various records as his own. Dante Fowler, a former University of Florida football star and first-round draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars, is not accused of involvement in the incident.
Detectives did not find the murder weapon, but a friend told police that an associate had given it to Donterio Fowler, who was driving his Charger, shortly before the shooting “for a narcotics transaction.” Fields was a passenger in the rear of the car, according to the warrant.
The associate in the Audi told police that “he heard and observed two gunshots being fired,” the warrant said. The bullet trajectory suggested that Fields may have been the shooter, firing from the Dodge’s rear passenger seat, according to his arrest warrant.
It was unclear Tuesday if Fields had retained a defense attorney.
“Hopefully, the arrests of the alleged perpetrators of this homicide will provide some solace to Michael Zaldua’s family in the knowledge that the Miami-Dade Police Department and my prosecutors never stopped searching for those responsible for his death,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement.
The 21-year-old Zaldua, who was born in South Florida, was a graduate of Doral’s Ronald Reagan High School. He lived with his mother in Doral at the time of his killing. He worked as a freelance photographer.
The complex is just north of FIU’s Modesto Maidique Campus off of Southwest Eighth Street and surrounded by a residential neighborhood in Sweetwater. At the time, Sweetwater’s police chief called the shooting an “isolated incident.”
The probe was handled by the cold-case squad of Miami-Dade police’s homicide bureau, which has also been handling the probe of the recent Surfside condo collapse.
“This case is another example that the tireless and determined work of the Miami-Dade Police Department Homicide Bureau and the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office is constant,” Miami-Dade Police Alfredo “Freddy” Ramirez III said in a statement. “Loved ones deserve to know and deserve proper closure.”