Hit or Mrs.?

According to the courts, Joyce Cohen hired three men to murder her wealthy husband. Now the entire case may be unraveling.

When Bright and Hernandez made their statements (from which quotations have been excerpted in this article), the reporter told Ross she first discussed her quandary in 1993 with her then-husband, prominent criminal defense attorney Mark Seiden. He encouraged her not to air the details because she'd "destroy" her career. (Seiden, however, tells New Times he had no such conversation with his former wife.) Not until last year, after she and news director Tom Doerr began dating, did she finally ask him what she should do. Doerr, who has since left Channel 10 and now works for a firm that consults with local TV news operations, said he couldn't advise her, according to her statement. She and Doerr are now married and live in Miami. Doerr did not return a message left by New Times at his business phone. Bright added that her husband wouldn't respond to the call, but reiterated that what she said about him in the sworn statement is accurate.

In early 1998 Bright told Miami Herald reporter Frances Robles what she knew. "Look, I can't get involved in this," she said to Robles, according to her statement. "I could be ruining my career. [Spear is] going to deny it, but maybe you can dig all of this out. It would be a great story for you, but just leave me out of it."

Robles has confirmed Bright's statement; however, she elected not to pursue the story. "I didn't see how it was something that could be confirmed," she said recently, adding that Bright suggested she call Spear "and tell him, 'Gail told me this -- what do you think?'" But Bright hadn't given her Spear's phone number, which was unlisted. "There were too many question marks. I thought it was a dead end."

But Bright just "kept getting these signs," and one, in particular, she couldn't shake. This past April she interviewed the author of a new true-crime book, Speed Kills, about the Miami murder of Cigarette boat builder-racer Don Aronow. She told Ross she couldn't remember the writer's name, but he'd told her a Broward prosecutor was planning to use the same three home-invaders as state witnesses in another pending homicide trial, and that the prosecutor believed they were not involved in the Cohen murder.

I was that writer whose name she couldn't remember. As we visited the Aronow crime scene, we chatted about other Miami murder mysteries. It was I who broached the Cohen case. The Broward prosecutor, Brian Cavanagh (about whom I'd written earlier), had suggested to the Broward Sheriff's Office in 1996 that I meet with Anthony Caracciolo and Tommy Joslin before they testified to a grand jury investigating the 1984 murder of a man named Charles Hodek. Cavanagh thought I'd be interested in writing about that case and how it intersected with Cohen's. I spent a couple hours over two days talking with them about the developer's murder. I told this to Bright, who nodded but said nothing.

About a month later, Joyce Cohen wrote to Bright from the Broward Correctional Institution, again denying she'd killed her husband, denying any connection with the alleged hit men, and pleading for help. They hadn't communicated since Bright's 1993 story. Bright didn't respond to the letter, but she did finally tell the station's vice president and general manager, John Garwood, about her lingering doubts. Garwood suggested she might face criminal prosecution for having withheld potential evidence. In fact, Bright told Ross, she felt Garwood was "advising [me] not to go forward with the information." Garwood, through his assistant, said he would not comment on the record about the story.

By late June, according to Bright's statement, she finally confessed her concerns to Dade Assistant State Attorney David Waksman, who suggested she write to Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. (In fact, Waksman tells New Times he told Bright to phone Rundle or he'd make the call himself. He called Rundle the following day to confirm Bright had done so.)

Bright then went to her current news director, Bill Pohovey, who agreed that she should come forward. The reporter called Rundle, and the two women met. Later that day, after Rundle consulted with the attorney assigned to previous Cohen case appeals, she told the reporter she should feel free to tell Alan Ross anything.

At 5:25 a.m. on March 7, 1986, Joyce Cohen dialed 911, sobbing hysterically that her husband had been shot. Police arrived minutes later at the Cohens' coral-rock mansion on South Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove. In the master bedroom, they found Stanley Cohen nude, facedown in the couple's four-poster brass bed, a sheet covering his lower body. A blood-soaked towel over the back of his head covered three bullet wounds; a fourth bullet had grazed his scalp. Joyce told the officers she'd been downstairs in the back of the house, had heard a noise, and had seen two shadowy figures leave through the front door.

Stanley was 52 years old, heavyset, nearly 17 years older than his pretty fourth wife of 11 years, who had been a secretary with his firm. He was a self-made man who had delivered newspapers and washed dishes as a teenager growing up in Miami. His company, SAC Construction, was responsible for building more than 20 Dade public schools, South Shore Hospital in Miami Beach, the Third District Court of Appeal building, and various strip malls.

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