Charges Dropped Against Suspect in Yosef Raksin Murder Case

Reb Yosef Raksin, Hy”d. (crownheights.info)

The Florida State Attorney has dropped the charges against Deandre Charles, the teen accused of the August 2014 murder of Reb Yosef Raksin, Hy”d, citing insufficient evidence.

Reb Yosef, a 60-year-old Lubavitcher Chassid from Crown Heights, was in Miami visiting his daughter during the summer of 2014 when he was fatally shot as he walked to shul on the morning of Shabbos, August 9. The incident was believed to have been a “robbery gone wrong,” rather than a hate crime.

More than 16 months later, in December 2015, police arrested 15-year-old Deandre Charles and charged him with first-degree murder. Charles pleaded not guilty.

However, on Tuesday, the State Attorney’s office filed a nolle prosequi – a notice that it is dropping prosecution of the case – as it now “does not believe it can prove Defendant’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Deandre Charles (Miami-Dade Dept. of Corrections via AP)

According to a “closeout memo” by the State Attorney’s office announcing its decision not to prosecute the case against Charles, the evidence against Charles had consisted of eyewitness identification, DNA, and cellphone records.

“The main evidence against the defendant was DNA,” says the memo. However, “after the trial team received DNA reports in this case, the Miami-Dade Police Department Crime Laboratory changed its reporting methods.” Whereas previous reporting methods had attributed the DNA on the gun used in the murder to Charles, now, “due to a change in protocols, the DNA analyst can only testify that the Defendant cannot be included or excluded from the DNA mixture found on the firearm parts.”

Furthermore, “initial information given to the trial team by the police department about the telephone cell sites” indicated that Charles was in the vicinity of the murder scene at the time the crime occurred; Charles had denied even being in the vicinity, saying he was asleep at home. However, prosecutors now say that the cellphone evidence was incorrect. Firstly, while the phone “pings off a tower in close proximity to the homicide scene,” it pings “on the opposite side of the tower from the murder scene.” Moreover, prosecutors discovered that the phone in question was not in Deandre Charles’s possession at the time of the murder, “but in the possession of his brother Julien Charles.”

In March 2016, prosecutors discovered that ballistics tests showed that the gun used in the Raksin murder had been used during an armed robbery 30 hours earlier, seven miles from the murder scene. Police had been aware of the connection since October 2015 but had failed to notify the State Attorney’s office. “In a case where the defense is misidentification and one of the State’s theories is that the motive for the murder was robbery, the fact that the firearm was used the day before the murder in a robbery is highly relevant and supports the defense theory that someone else committed the murder, possibly the same person who committed the armed robbery,” says the State Attorney’s memo.

Finally, several months ago, prosecutors learned that a gang often hid guns in the home shared by Deandre and his brother Julien; therefore, even if Deandre’s DNA were indeed on the gun, it may well have been simply because the gun was in his home, and not that he used it in the murder.

The Office of the State Attorney notes that it “remains committed to bringing justice to the Raksin family,” and that “this continues to be an open investigation.”