A Sister's Sleuthing Unravels a Teenage Love Triangle Murder Mystery
Savage and Stacy argued in the park as the last light slipped from the sky, but there was no heat in the fight. He was just goofing around. That was Savage, his madhouse giggle always bursting from a wide grin, his jokes helping everyone pass the long, hollow hours on Young Circle.
Although it sits dead center in condo- and bistro-heavy downtown Hollywood, the circle is a way station for the young, homeless, and destitute. They show up near noon, plunk down on the grass near paths packed with dog walkers and strollers, then leave at night.
Savage, among the youngest of the regulars, never expected to end up here. The 25-year-old mixed martial arts wannabe fighter had survived the hard knocks of a bad childhood and made a fast break from Jersey City's gangland to South Florida. And for a while, the Sunshine State had been just the second act he'd wanted. He'd found a good woman and a job, had a kid, and chased his cage-match glory on the side. But by June 2013, he'd tripped up hard, just like everyone else in Young Circle.
A Sister's Sleuthing Unravels a Teenage Love Triangle Murder Mystery
When darkness settled around 8:30 on June 10 that year, Savage stood, hiking his jean shorts over green Sesame Street boxers. "Got to take my girl back to her crib," he announced.
Miami Dolphins v New York Jets - Standing Room Only
TicketsSun., Oct. 22, 1:00pm
Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets
TicketsSun., Oct. 22, 1:00pm
Florida Panthers vs Anaheim Ducks
TicketsThu., Oct. 26, 7:30pm
Florida Panthers vs Detroit Red Wings
TicketsSat., Oct. 28, 7:00pm
Florida Panthers vs Tampa Bay Lightning
TicketsMon., Oct. 30, 7:30pm
Savage's lean body was a storm of tattoos, from his close-cut dark hair to the quick hands little-league coaches back in Jersey were still talking about. The ink was a peek into two decades of struggle. "Mr. Ambition" was written over his right eyebrow. Teardrops fell on his cheeks. "All I Know Is Pain," "Greed Kills Slowly," and "Nothing Lasts Forever" were burned into his back. And there on his neck, simple script spelled her name: "Stacy."
She got up too, her dark hair held back in a ponytail. Under jeans and black tank top, her curvy 18-year-old frame was also a coloring book of ink: stars and winged hearts crawling up one leg, an elaborate naked woman on the other, weed plants on her hands. Some of the work she'd done herself, and she'd taught Savage the basics. More than anything, tattoos were their strongest link.
As they left the park that night, the couple looked happy enough. For months, Stacy and Savage had been on-again and off-again, waging a war of words, then cuddling later on the couch at her place. The week before, she'd fired off ugly texts warning him to steer clear. But here they were tonight, back together.
They walked west on Hollywood, then hooked north on Dixie Highway. Stacy seemed nervous, stealing glances at her phone. At Taft Street, they headed east again into a neighborhood of sagging bungalows and shaggy lawns. Just before reaching Stacy's house on North 22nd Avenue after an hour of walking, the couple detoured into an alley stained orange from the high-watt glare of a streetlight.
That's when the gunshots rang out, four in quick succession from just behind Savage. Two bullets punched through his left arm. Two more pierced his skull. He hit the ground, and Stacy sprinted north. After a pause, his prone body violently shook again as two final rounds slammed into his chest. Savage — Duran Michael Rivera, born in Jersey, killed in a South Florida alley — quickly bled out. By the time police arrived at 9:45, he was already dead.
For detectives, the killing at first glance must have seemed an all-too-common crime: another dead thug, likely felled by the same drug culture that had left him homeless and broke. Yet Savage's life and death — as told through hundreds of pages of police records, text messages, and interviews with his family and itinerant friends — were far more complex.
To his tight-knit clan back in Jersey, the killing was just the latest episode in a saga of pain and loss, violence and drugs. Determined to understand his death, his hard-nosed older sister Adelia Rivera began following a trail of online bread crumbs through Facebook. Soon, the clues she found pointed toward a darker, more twisted reason for murder than a simple drug beef: a love triangle that had boxed Michael between two troubled, violent teens.
Her improbable sleuthing eventually helped crack the case, but it still hasn't helped solve the larger question of how did her little brother's life ended up so far adrift from her dreams for him.
"I try to be angry about it, just to go through the motions and steps of grieving, but I just feel incredibly sad all the time," she says. "I want to understand — I need to understand — why this happened."
Every Sunday, he tapped his inner MJ. The little boy elbowed his way through his great-grandmother's second-floor apartment on Montgomery Street that was crammed with great-aunts and second cousins. At the stereo, Michael Rivera hit play on "Billy Jean." As the music flowed, he broke out the King of Pop's famous move, grabbing his crotch and wiggling around to the delighted squeals of family. "Do it again, Michael," they cheered. Eventually somebody made him a little glove for his act.
Those performances were important for Michael, a little kid already hungry for whatever table scraps of affection he could get.
Michael was the youngest of 12 born to David Cruz, a hulking weight-room rat who cruised Jersey City on a motorcycle with the Ching-a-Ling Nomads, a Latin version of the Hell's Angels. His intimidating look hid a softy with a keen sense of humor, but by the time his two youngest children, Adelia and Michael, were born, in 1985 and 1987 respectively, much of that cheer had been worn away.
Adelia and Michael's mother, Elena Rivera, was from the Bronx. She was in and out of jail on drug and prostitution charges; during one stay, she befriended one of David's cousins, then followed her home to Jersey. David was in love the moment he saw her.
But Elena couldn't stay away from drugs. She used during all her pregnancies; when she was carrying Michael, she consumed everything, including heroin. When they brought the baby home from the hospital, his pained cries issued unceasingly from the crib. "There was nothing anyone could do to make him stop," Adelia remembers. "It was terrible."
Then when Michael was just 6 months old, his mother died of an overdose. Instead of taking on all the kids, David Cruz parceled the brood off to his extended family in the Puerto Rican neighborhoods near Jersey City's waterfront. The anchor was the kids' great-grandmother Vasquez, an all-smiles matriarch who was already climbing into her 80s and who attributed her longevity to chugging black coffee and laughing at whatever life threw at her.
Adelia went with Vasquez, while Michael was given to his great-aunt and -uncle just across the street. "He was a little comedy kid," recalls Miriam Prosper, his older cousin. "He loved jokes, loved making people laugh, loved the attention."
Michael and Adelia saw more of each other than the other siblings but couldn't shake the idea that they'd been abandoned. "It bonded us," Adelia says today. "I don't talk to my brothers and sisters every day. But we all went through it together, and we knew exactly how the other felt. We knew the pain we carried."
Those emotional knots only twisted more when Cruz died of AIDS when Michael was 8 years old. The family didn't even know he was HIV-positive until seeing the death certificate, Adelia says.
Adelia dealt with the pain by fleeing her fate like a burning house, working hard to outstep the mistakes of her parents. A sober, serious, and bespectacled girl, by the time she was 12, she'd moved in with a friend's family downtown and started working odd jobs for cash. She beat lung cancer at 14 and then four years later got a job at a financial firm. In four more years, she was a manager. Later she went to nursing school.
"There was no time to cry for myself or pity myself," she explains. "I needed to think what my next move was going to be."
Michael was different, though. The past bruised him hardest. "My father was trying to do the right thing," Adelia says. "Michael didn't see it like that. He felt like he was abandoned."
As he got older, the pain aged to anger. Usually goofy and personable, sometimes his mood sank like a torpedoed ocean liner. Doctors speculated he had a bipolar condition and possibly schizophrenia. He was prescribed medications, but the drugs buried him inside a bland, dead-eyed shell. By the time he was 14, he'd quit school and started running the streets.
Adelia tried to act as a surrogate mom. "Michael, you know how our parents died," she would constantly tell her brother. "We were born addicted to that stuff; it would be easy to get addicted again."
"I know, I know," he'd bounce back, before breaking out in a court-jester grin.
But Jersey City was bad news for a kid starving to belong. Everyone Michael grew up with was either in or affiliated with a gang. His family started seeing Michael wearing colors, but they knew he talked bigger than he bit. The tattoos he began accumulating were another smokescreen.
"He looked like a thug," says Tony Torres, a wheelchair-bound family friend who let Michael crash at his place when the teen was bouncing around Jersey City. "But I think he was just hiding himself behind his tattoos, portraying himself as a tough guy."
If there was one place where Michael seemed to actually thrive, it was in a boxing ring. It was his brother Eric, three years older, who got him started. Michael copied everything he did, from his outfits to his hair, neat as the baselines in a big league ballpark. When Eric went to fight, Michael tagged along. In the ring, he showed a natural talent with quick hands. Nearly every practice bout at Rocky Marciano Gym in Jersey ended with a KO. Although he never got a pro fight, talent scouts agreed the kid had talent. "I guess it was all the struggles in our lives, the pent-up aggression," Adelia says.
Although he'd do construction jobs, Michael couldn't keep steady work. His first son arrived when he was 17, his second three years later with a different girl. The child payments started racking up until he was around $4,000 in the hole with the courts.
But for all his troubles, Michael never ran afoul of the police until 2006, when he was 22. A fight with the mother of his older boy got ugly, and she claimed Michael had hit the baby during the tussle. Michael claimed it was an accident. He was charged with aggravated assault, pleaded guilty, and took two years' probation.
Then in 2010, the mother of his second son cut him loose. Michael dropped further into his emotional deep end until Torres came through with an escape hatch: He was moving to Hollywood and invited Michael to tag along. "There was nothing else out there for him in Jersey City," Torres says.
Michael wanted to fight professionally, so when he and Torres arrived in South Florida in the summer of 2010, he established an intense routine. Abandoning boxing for mixed martial arts, he worked out at a gym on Hollywood Boulevard and started running 15 miles a day.
During his first month in town, he and Torres were at the Publix on Young Circle when Torres' wheelchair bumped a guy in line. The stranger started screaming, and Michael intervened. When the guy started pushing him, Michael dropped him with one punch. "Savage," someone nearby announced in awe, and Michael took the name for his MMA bouts — Savage Southpaw Rivera.
Around the same time, Michael's eye caught on a beautiful girl behind the sandwich counter at the Subway off the circle. He started coming in to buy chocolate chip cookies and flirt. Gloria and Michael were soon dating; they moved in together in 2011 when she became pregnant. After the baby arrived, Adelia and her family visited his Hollywood apartment, and it seemed like he'd finally puzzled the pieces of his life into the right places.
"He was doing well," she recalls. "I think my brother needs to be with a woman that's better than him, so that he's motivated to do better. Gloria wanted something more out of her life."
Savage was burning down a joint with Irish, a scarecrow-thin street tattoo artist. It was around 7 a.m. The two regulars were camped out in the middle of Young Circle when they spotted it: an eagle blading through the morning air to snatch a squirrel off a branch. The two sat sharing the moment, their weed-battered brains grappling with the natural marvel. The morning was all the more surreal because only weeks before, Savage and Irish had viciously brawled. But that's how it was in the circle. You might as easily be trading a joint as punches.
When Adelia left Michael and returned to Jersey City, the last thing she expected was that in a little more than a year, he'd end up sleeping under a tree and spending his hours with someone like Irish. But Michael's rapid descent was an eerie replay of his mom's troubles — a depression- and drug-fueled tailspin that would end in a dirty Hollywood alleyway.
Michael's relationship with Gloria went well for two years. While she pulled her shifts at Subway, Michael watched their son and Gloria's other child. He took the kids to the park and tried not to fumble recipes for mac-and-cheese. He was still training to fight, and sometimes Gloria would slip on the pads and spar with him in the driveway. Gloria's other son even took to calling Michael "Dad."
But by the summer of 2012, things were getting rocky. "I was getting frustrated," Gloria says. "I was the one busting my ass and taking care of all the bills for everyone in the house. I needed help financially."
When Michael finally found a job filling stock at a corner store, he also made friends with the troubled crew at nearby Young Circle. He started staying out late with them, sometimes all night, and when he came home, he fought with Gloria. Worse, Michael's steadiest influence — his friend Torres — was spending months at a time dealing with sick family members back in Jersey.
One afternoon in late 2012, Michael left after being nasty to Gloria and the kids. She told him to come home early that night or they were finished. When Michael didn't show, Gloria put all his stuff in a bag and left it outside. She was done. "When he was with me, he was on track, he was great," she says. "Then after we parted, he started with bad things."
It was the same pattern he'd shown as a kid, tumbling from a good relationship and opportunity to depression and anger. Only this time, Adelia wasn't there to net his free fall. And heroin, the same drug that had killed his mom, entered the picture as his life shifted to Young Circle. He passed his time lying on the lawn, ducking cops and sneaking across the street to pull on a plastic bottle of vodka behind the number-nine bus stop.
"Everybody who was hanging here was a bunch of hood rats who didn't know how to be adults," says Jeremy, a homeless and tattered 20-something who idled days away with Michael.
Yet Savage, as everyone knew him there, found a high-five camaraderie in the park. Whenever he had money, he'd run to Walgreens for sodas for everyone. "He didn't start no trouble, didn't disrespect anyone," Jeremy says. "Savage was a good guy."
Violence was common as well, and Savage didn't hide from a fight. He swung on anyone who bothered the homeless women. "When I first bumped into that kid, I thought, 'Damn, this kid isn't going to live too long,'" says Leo, another circle regular. "He had a Tupac attitude — fuck the world. But then he'd be at the soup kitchen serving plates. Inside, he was a good-hearted person."
The park was likely where he met Stacy Goff. She was seven years younger, with dark pretty eyes and heart-shaped lips that spit out tough street-speak. Their common ground was emotional wear and tear. Stacy was the second oldest in a family of four girls born to James, a construction worker, and Margo, a stay-at-home mom, according to a family friend who asked to remain anonymous. When she was 10, Stacy's father died (of natural causes, according to the medical examiner). From there, the family bounced from address to address in Hollywood. Stacy soon bailed on high school and started running the streets.
The couple bonded over tattoos, as Stacy inked Michael and taught him how to use the needle. The couple soon moved together with three other friends into a cramped apartment in Hollywood. When Torres finally came back from New Jersey in December 2012, he stopped by. That's when alarms started blaring.
Michael was skinny and sick-looking. Stacy seemed fog-bound. Torres felt certain she was on pills or heroin. "She's taking you away from your goal," he'd warn him. But Michael didn't seem interested.
In March, Torres called Adelia and warned her about the drugs. For Adelia, it was the worst kind of déjà vu. "I went quickly into overdrive," she says. "I was going to lose him forever if I didn't do something quickly. It's exactly how it happened with my mom."
Adelia began plotting to get him home and arranged a rehab stay for Michael once he returned. But then he went AWOL. His phone stopped working. He wasn't living at the same address. Michael would ring up Torres from blocked numbers only to say he was still alive.
Adelia's updates came secondhand through Torres: Michael said he didn't want to come home. Then he said he'd come home, but he had to bring Stacy. Finally, Michael told Torres he thought someone was out to get him. Adelia was pregnant, and her doctor had put her on no-fly orders. Still, every day she talked to her husband about driving the 1,200 miles to Florida overnight. But then what?
She didn't know it, but Michael was now a Young Circle regular, spending his days in the park and disappearing at night to sleep in shelters, on friends' couches, or outside. She also didn't know he was getting sucked down deeper into a love triangle humming with violence.
By the spring of 2013, according to police records and interviews with friends, Stacy had fallen in with another 17-year-old, a stocky kid with soft eyes and bushy eyebrows named Alex Cabrera. The teen had a record. On August 14, 2012, he'd refused to pull over after police tried to stop his car. After blowing through three red lights, Cabrera was cornered at Phippen Waiters Road and West Dixie Highway in Dania Beach. Police pulled him from the car, cuffed him, and roughed him on the sidewalk. Footage of the fight made it onto local news. Cabrera was hit with charges of resisting arrest, battery on an officer, and possession of marijuana. (The charges were filed in juvenile court, so records are not available on how they were resolved.)
Text messages later released by police show that by May 2013, Stacy, Cabrera, and Savage were soon embroiled in an emotional tug of war. Stacy had been telling friends that she was with Cabrera; by June, she said the two were trying to get a place together. He takes care... me n treats me great, she wrote in one text to a friend.
But the texts also make it clear Stacy and Savage were still linked. Later in May, Cabrera fired off an angry message after hearing his girlfriend was hanging around Michael. jusz kuz he wasz round da area dnt mean I was wit a nigga or even talkin to him, she pleaded. Mhm Stacyy, Cabrera punched back. Girls like u are the reason im a hoe and heartless. All yah da same.
Despite her denials to Cabrera, police records show Stacy was indeed texting Michael throughout May, soon telling him to use Facebook instead. Plz don't text back, she wrote in one message. I love you.
Then in early June, their relationship turned ugly. Stacy demanded to know why Savage had been seen around the house of one of her friends. For tattoos, he answered. Naw nigga... dahts my pplsz dont go round my ppls, she responded, before launching into a threat to call police to accuse Michael of rape, as well as telling him there was a "green light on his head."
I'll fuk yur life up dawg, she wrote.
Life fuked up already, Michael messaged back.
Nine days later, he was dead.
Adelia's husband said they had to talk. It was a Thursday morning, June 13, 2013, and the busy mom was getting her kids ready for school. She could read bad news in his face and figured it had to do with her 107-year-old great-grandmother. She dug in for the hit. "They found your brother," he said unexpectedly.
Even though Michael had been out of contact for three months, the news went off like a grenade, taking out pieces of Adelia. "Everything changed," she says today, tears rimming her eyes.
Slammed with grief, she also knew the odds. Her husband had worked homicide for five years. Without a witness, murder cases were hard to put together. So Adelia started her own amateur investigation, spending hours sifting through the only pipeline of information she had: Facebook. In the end, her own desktop detective work helped tease out the truth.
"I became completely obsessed," she says. "I was on the computer every day. I knew every move they made."
Adelia and her husband, a Jersey City Police officer, say they found a series of incriminating Facebook posts they later sent to police in Hollywood. Both Stacy's and Cabrera's Facebook accounts have since been deleted, so it's impossible to independently verify the specific posts, but police records show that detectives were also monitoring the teens' Facebook history and that they used Stacy's online activity to build a case against the teens. (Stacy's and Cabrera's attorneys declined to comment for this article.)
Adelia got her first look at Michael's teenaged girlfriend on Facebook, where she saw that the young girl mugging cute for bathroom selfies matched the description police had circulated of a woman seen fleeing the murder scene. Stacy's page was mum about the murder, Adelia says, even though there were friends posting to ask about Michael.
Then, two weeks or so after the shooting, she saw that Stacy's relationship status had switched from "Single" to "In a Relationship with Alexis Cabrera."
Clicking over on the teen's page, Adelia says she saw that Cabrera had deactivated his account on June 10, the day of the murder. But before going offline, he'd posted "bang" six times — the same number of gunshots Michael was hit with. On June 12, Cabrera had reactivated the account. "I'm back," he'd posted, adding a smiley face, she says. In new pictures, Cabrera sported a new teardrop tattoo, which is often ink signage for a successful killing on the street. "I knew," she says. "I just knew."
The sister began relentlessly calling down to Florida, asking detectives if they'd been following along on Facebook. "Every week, they would hear my voice because I wouldn't let them forget about him," she says.
Hollywood detectives, who declined to be interviewed, were already looking at Stacy as a suspect. At the crime scene, police found medication in Michael's backpack from a recent hospital stay. An address on the label led to a single-story house on North 22nd Avenue, where Margo Goff told police that Michael was her daughter's boyfriend but that Stacy wasn't home.
The next day, the teen agreed to be interviewed by police. Stacy first told detectives that Michael was her boyfriend and she'd been with him at Young Circle on the night of the shooting. He'd walked her home, and the two split up because her mom didn't let Michael around anymore.
When detectives told Stacy she matched the description of a girl seen fleeing from the alley, she changed her story. After they split up, Stacy claimed she'd started heading up North 22nd Avenue when she spotted a black male she knew only as "Dred." The two hugged to say hello, but then Michael appeared from an alley, shouting for Dred to get away from his girl. The two faced off. Dred pulled a gun and started firing. Stacy ran.
Police were dubious. Before ending the interview, detectives asked her about Cabrera and why — as Adelia had noted and sent on to the cops — her Facebook page had said the two were in a relationship in April. Stacy then admitted the truth: She was dating both Michael and Cabrera.
Police filed search warrants to get all of Stacy's text messages. In the meantime, a confidential informant approached in late July. The snitch said he'd been sitting on the back porch of his Dania Beach house around 2 p.m. on the day of the murder when Cabrera and Stacy stopped by. Cabrera had pulled out a short-barreled .38 Special and bragged about how it could punch through a bulletproof vest. Cabrera said they were going looking for Savage. "[Cabrera] and his girlfriend started talkin'," the informant told police. "She was tryin' to tell him, well don't kill 'im. And he was like, I'm not gonna kill 'im... I'll shoot 'im in the leg."
The informant gave police an address where Cabrera was staying, a cramped apartment in a rundown shotgun house just south of Young Circle. "There's guns, there's drugs, there's everything in there," he warned.
Two days later, SWAT smashed into the apartment, hauling off Cabrera for possession with intent to sell cocaine and heroin. He was released on bond, and those charges are still pending.
Two months later, SWAT swarmed a small, gray, paint-chipped house just off North Dixie Highway, a couple of blocks from where Michael was killed. The target was a crack-slinging gang member, but Stacy was also there when police knocked. Investigators bagged both crack and heroin in the sweep and charged Stacy with possession of heroin and cocaine (both those charges are also pending).
Then came the smoking gun. The warrant came through for Stacy's text messages, and police found hundreds that established a clear motive: the tumultuous love triangle among the two teens and Savage.
Even better for prosecutors, police found that Stacy and Cabrera had been messaging each other on the day of the killing. The messages suggest the pair coldly plotted the crime in advance, with Stacy leading Savage from Young Circle to the dark alley where Cabrera waited with his gun.
A few hours before the shooting, Cabrera had texted: He better be in that alley at 9:45 stacy.
And while Stacy and Savage made their hourlong walk through Hollywood, records show she sent Cabrera street-by-street updates. By 9:20 p.m., Cabrera was impatiently texting Stacy, asking where she was. At 9:32, she announced she was there. I'm pulling up, Cabrera replied. Hold him there.
The messages were the final piece of the puzzle. In October 2013, police issued warrants for both Stacy and Cabrera for the first-degree murder of Michael Rivera. Stacy was taken into custody immediately; Cabrera was on the run for more than a month before police tracked him down at a friend's house in Davie.
Adelia's Facebook hunch had been right.
"I thought that I would feel some sort of relief or closure or happy they were busted," Adelia says. "I didn't."
Instead, when she got news of the arrests, her mind stuck on how young the murder suspects were. "I just felt sad for their mothers," she says.
Adelia cruised through downtown Hollywood in a rental car, tears stinging her eyes as she passed the street names from police reports she'd read so many times: Taft, Pierce, Johnson. She fought tears as she approached the dirty asphalt where her brother died, but once the car pulled up, the grief spilled out.
It was eight months after Michael's murder, and she had come to South Florida to meet prosecutors. But as she drove back to her hotel, she found herself drawn toward Young Circle and then slowly north until the car stopped just outside the alleyway where Michael had bled to death. For days, she'd been half expecting her phone to buzz, with Michael on the other end laughing about some silly joke. But the call never come. Now she stared at the place where he'd died and confronted the truth.
"That was the first time that I realized my brother was deceased," she says. "It really clicked. He's not calling me."
After the arrests, prosecutors built what Adelia believes is a strong case against Stacy and Cabrera, whose tangled relationship they say led to Savage's death. The text messages are the center of their case. "Stacy Goff claims to have been in a relationship and loved the victim but after he was shot, she did not call police or an ambulance," police note in her arrest affidavit. "[She] gave updates of her location and when she would be in the alley with the victim to Alex Cabrera."
Cabrera, at least, will try to convince a jury that he had nothing to do with the plot. From his cell block at the Broward Detention Center, he plunked down before a video screen in mid-December to speak with a reporter about the charges. Despite his hulking 200-pound frame and the tattoos climbing from his knuckles to his neck, a soft, friendly voice ekes out. "I was set up by Stacy Goff," he explains.
In Cabrera's telling, he never knew Michael Rivera and knew Stacy only through friends of friends. She stole his phone a few days before the shooting at a party on Hollywood Beach, he says, then intricately set up the whole murder. Stacy would never have messed around with someone like him, he says. "Stacy only dated older guys," he argued.
Goff has also pleaded not guilty; her attorney did not return calls from New Times. Stacy's mother, Margo, also declined to be interviewed. "It's not something I'd prefer to talk about," she says. (The case is still pending; no trial date has been set.)
When she returned to New Jersey from her meeting with prosecutors and impromptu visit to Michael's murder scene, Adelia found herself mentally replaying the footage from their childhood.
Could she have done anything differently? Pushed him harder to straighten out? Or did she shove too hard and send him careening off course? "I know he could have been so much better," she says. "I could have gotten him there. But they took that away from me."
Adelia has tried instead to focus on getting justice. She's told prosecutors that even if the death penalty is on the table, she'd rather not have Cabrera and Stacy pay with their lives if they're convicted. "I feel like it's three lives lost," she explains. "The only difference is if their mothers want to see them, they can go visit them in jail. I can't."
Though they were so different on the surface, the siblings' connection ran so deep that Adelia now feels Michael like a phantom limb — gone but still there. He's shown up at night in the dreams of other family members. Only days after the murder, his great-grandmother woke up talking about seeing Michael and a girl in her dream. Another morning, Adelia's 6-year-old son said he was visited by his tio.
Adelia hasn't had her own visit from Michael. Not yet.
"I'm begging my brother to come to me in my dreams to let me know he's OK," she admits. "When he knows I'm ready, he'll come."
Get the Things to Do Newsletter
Find out about upcoming events and special offers happening in South Florida.