Broward Escape Artist Dayonte Resiles Could Face Death Despite Questionable Evidence

The blond corpse floats in a blood-filled bathtub.The face bobs just barely above the surface. She wears nothing but a thong. Her hands are tied with a ribbed fabric sash. The feet are bound with a beige electrical cord. Stab wounds dot her body.

"Killing a woman? No. There is no way Dayonte could ever hurt a woman."

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The sprawling Mediterranean-style home is a mess: blood everywhere, drawers pulled open, security cameras ripped from the wall. In the back, a glass door facing the pool has been shattered.

Despite the chaos, the family dog is fast asleep.

Outside, egrets graze next to the canal surrounding Davie's WestRidge development, where homes typically sell for more than $1 million. It's one of several virtually identical subdivisions on Nob Hill Road with names such as Ridgeview Lake, Long Lake Estates, and Long Lake Ranches. All are hidden behind tall hedges and fronted by imposing guard towers. None of the residents has reported a break-in or anything else suspicious. It seems like just another serene Monday.

When police arrive a little after noon, they learn the 59-year-old blonde in the bathtub is Jill Halliburton Su, whose great-uncle, Erle Halliburton, founded the oil company that still bears his name. At the time of his death in 1957, he was one of the ten richest people in the United States.

But nothing is missing from the house, so there's no explanation for the brutal murder.

The cops have no way of knowing yet that their search for a killer will lead to many dead ends and only two real suspects: Justin Su, the murdered woman's only son, and Dayonte Resiles, a young man with a history of burglarizing homes. Both 20 years old at the time of the killing, they hadn't met despite growing up only 15 miles apart. One is the child of an heiress and a renowned termite scientist, the other the son of a Walmart clerk and a law maintenance worker. Neither has a clear motive.

On the basis of some questionable DNA evidence, Resiles will be charged with the murder. He will eventually engineer a brilliant courtroom escape, helped by a handful of teenagers with little more than high-school educations. They will somehow outsmart the police for nearly a week while Resiles is on the run.

And now, two years after the suburban housewife's death, no one knows for sure who killed her or why.

When Dayonte Resiles was only 2 years old, he asked his mother for a new pair of sneakers. Sha'Tavis Johnson, who was then just 20 herself and had a wide-eyed look that made her appear even younger, couldn't believe it. She figured a few more years would pass before Dayonte became self-conscious about his appearance. And as a single mother who worked minimum-wage jobs at Dollar General, Goodwill, and Wendy's, she didn't exactly have extra money for sneakers.

But she did what she could. It was obvious there was something special about Dayonte, a precocious kid with a serious expression who loved to draw and read, and tended to be a dreamer. Adored by all of his teachers, he spent his time outside school reading books or catching crabs in the Middle River. He was nicknamed "Moochie" because he ate so much.

Johnson did her best to encourage him, though she was often so exhausted when she got home that she couldn't do much besides let him rub her feet with lotion. She had been 16 and still finishing school at Fort Lauderdale's Stranahan High when she became pregnant with her first son, Richard. People told her she was too young to raise a child, but she had a strong independent streak that she would later pass on to her children. She was ready for a life of her own. Two years later, her sister introduced her to Woking Resiles, a landscaper. The two made plans to start a family together, but while pregnant with Dayonte, Johnson ended the relationship.

"We just don't want to see him framed for something he did not do."

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Then she adjusted to the reality of raising two boys on her own. She told herself she'd go back to school and learn cosmetology. But first she had to see her kids through high school.

Dayonte dreamed of being wealthy. "Always he'd say, 'Mama, I'm going to be rich,'" Johnson recalls. But unlike most kids in his working-class black neighborhood in Lauderdale Lakes, he showed no interest in the two stereotypical ways out: rap or sports. Instead, he envisioned a career in real estate.

"He said, 'I've been watching it on TV. I see how much these people make,'" Johnson says. "'They buy these houses, and they fix them up and sell them again.' I said, 'OK, if that's what you want to do, the sky's the limit.'"

Dayonte's entrepreneurial hustle set him apart from the other kids at Arthur Ashe Jr. Middle School. Rather than watch TV or play videogames all day, he'd pick mangoes from trees and sell them on the corner. Or he'd go door-to-door selling candy. Or he'd wash neighbors' cars for a few dollars. "He got the idea all by himself," Johnson recalls. "One of my neighbors gave him a lawn mower because they saw he was so ambitious for himself, and he'd go around mowing lawns." He'd use the money to buy new clothes and sneakers — he had a closet full of Jordans — or get a fresh haircut.

When Dayonte reached his teenage years, Johnson began to worry. He grew bored with school, complaining the classes at Dillard High were too easy. She'd check her phone at work and see she'd missed a call from the principal, saying Dayonte hadn't shown up. By then, she was working at Walmart, which paid better than anywhere she'd ever worked, but wasn't flexible. She'd also had two more kids, Khari and Joenay. Dayonte put her in an impossible position: Missing work to make sure he got to school would mean losing her job. Then she'd have no way of supporting her family. Instead, she tried to lay down the law. "I'd say, 'You're either going to get your education, or you're getting out.'"

But by age 16, Dayonte was hanging out with kids who taught him to break into unoccupied houses in upscale communities and take watches, jewelry, and cash. Johnson told him he would have to leave. Eventually, he dropped out of school and got a job at a tire shop. By age 18, he had racked up eight juvenile arrests.

"He was a bright, intelligent kid," Johnson says. "He just chose the wrong people to hang out with, I guess."

During those years, Dayonte was unfailingly generous. He hadn't changed from the days when he was making money by washing cars and mowing lawns. He'd spend thousands of dollars at a time on diapers, wipes, and baby food that he'd hand out to single mothers at the park. Sometimes he'd pay other families' electric bills. "He'd always ask, 'Mama, you want anything?'" Johnson says. She always refused.

After she booted him from the apartment, he shuttled between his father's house and the homes of his various girlfriends. Though he'd never been a "guy's guy" — "he never really had homeboys," his ex-girlfriend Shenel Campbell says — he had a knack for charming women. His big brown eyes and lopsided smile intrigued them, as did the fact that he was quiet and kept to himself. He knew a thing or two about romance: He'd take dates to South Beach in a fancy rental car and buy dinner on Ocean Drive. Plus, he was scrupulously polite and loved to cook, particularly collard greens, his specialty.

Mothers loved him. Michelle Ring, a nursing assistant in northwest Fort Lauderdale whose daughter Jasmine dated Dayonte during high school, began to consider him her godson. She gave him a place to stay when he needed one, regardless of whether he and Jasmine were together. Likewise, Shenel Campbell recalls that she and Dayonte got into an argument on the phone one night — over the fact that he'd been spending too much time with another girl — and she arrived home to find him already asleep in her bed. Her mother had let him in.

Everyone has their weaknesses, and Dayonte Resiles has several: clothes, shoes, cars, and women. That last one was a reason nobody who knew him could believe when police said he'd killed Jill Halliburton Su.

"You have an instinct for what your child will do and what they will not do," Johnson says. "It's possible that he might have burglarized a house. But killing a woman? No. That ain't him. There is no way Dayonte could ever hurt a woman."

It's a half-hour before midnight, and Justin Su is slumped back on a chair in room 210 at the Davie Police Department. Roughly 12 hours have passed since he called 911 to tell police he found his mother dead in her bathtub. He's spent the past nine hours locked in this interrogation room. His clothes have been taken away and replaced with a white zippered jumpsuit.

Two cops, one bald and one with a full head of hair, wearing identical green polo shirts peer at him intently.

"It was not a robbery," the bald cop says. "It was someone very close to her from what we can tell. Nothing was really stolen."

"I loved my mom. She was the glue in my family, man. She held our family together."

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Su, a gangly 20-year-old, grimaces while the detective tells him that no one could have possibly fit through the hole smashed in the sliding glass door, which Su had previously suggested might be evidence of a break-in.

"You really think that's how that works?" the detective asks.

"Yeah!" Su yells, indignant, wildly waving his arms. "'Cause I've never seen a fucking robbery before."

"Obviously," the cop answers. "It looks nothing like a robbery."

For six hours before this conversation, the detectives were in good-cop mode. They asked Su to tell them what he saw that morning and listened quietly. Now they've flipped: They seem to think he murdered his mother and then staged a burglary. They'll spend another three hours driving Su to the verge of tears. His voice hoarse from screaming, the 20-year-old repeatedly insists he didn't kill his mother, and the detectives continue telling him that he did.

"When you guys find out you're wrong, I hope you come apologize to me," Su tells the detectives.

"If I find out I'm wrong, I will seriously consider a career change," the bald cop replies.

Not many murders happen in Davie, and the few that do tend to be motivated by personal or familial feuds. So when police began investigating the death of Jill Halliburton Su, they started by questioning her husband and son. (Through their lawyer, the Sus declined to comment for this story.)

Jill had met Nan-Yao Su during her junior year abroad in Japan, where his Taiwanese parents had moved their family when he was a child. After she graduated from Michigan State University and he finished his master's degree at the Kyoto Institute of Technology, they moved to Honolulu, where he entered a PhD program in entomology at the University of Hawaii. In 1984, Nan-Yao joined the faculty at the University of Florida, for which he is currently a distinguished professor of entomology at the Fort Lauderdale Research and Education Center. Six years later, their daughter Amanda, who goes by Mandy, was born. Justin followed three years after that.

As Nan-Yao became an internationally recognized expert on termites, Jill stayed home with the kids, who attended Davie public schools. She was a dedicated classroom volunteer who listed her occupation as "folk artist" and returned every summer to Ann Arbor, where she'd grown up, to exhibit her artwork — wood signs painted with smiling suns and inspirational sayings. As her children grew older, she also began volunteering as a reader to the visually impaired, logging around 1,000 hours with Insight for the Blind over nine years.

In 2011, she wrote a will that left her entire estate — including the vacation home they'd built in Asheville, $65,000 worth of oil rights, a Lincoln Mercury SUV, and $9,000 worth of jewelry — to her husband. And when he'd called 911 to report his wife's murder, he sounded remarkably calm.

But their marriage appeared, at least on the surface, to be happy. The day before the murder, they'd returned from a vacation in Malaysia, where she'd posted Facebook pictures that showed them outside the historic Kuala Lumpur City Gallery. Dressed in loose button-down linen shirts, they laughed and held hands.

Nan-Yao, a jovial, gray-haired man with round glasses and a goatee, was independently wealthy. He had invented a termite management system manufactured by Dow Chemical. In 2009, he'd established a $35,000 endowed scholarship for entomology students. He even donated $250,000 to fund a national entomology prize. There was no obvious reason for him to kill his wife.

Their daughter Mandy was a graduate of Nova High School and the University of Kentucky. She was 24 at the time of her mother's murder and had been working as an instructor at an equestrian facility in Wellington. Police quickly ruled her out as a suspect. That left Justin, who had been the one to discover his mother's body.

According to his former classmates, Justin was popular at Nova High, though his short, skinny build meant lots of girls treated him like their little brother. Over the summers, he worked at a University of Florida lab — one of the perks of having a dad who was a distinguished professor. After graduating, he attended Stetson University, where he'd been a member of the skeet and trap-shooting club.

But he landed on academic probation, and by fall 2014, when his mother died, he'd dropped out and was taking classes at Broward College. His parents were disappointed. Jill had wept as they packed up his dorm room, he later told police. His return home had caused friction in the family.

Though he was the same age as Dayonte Resiles, his life had been dramatically different. He'd grown up in wealthy gated communities, gone to one of the county's top high schools, and had gotten off with no permanent record after being caught with pot because he agreed to snitch on a friend. An avid fisherman and hunter, he had an extensive knife collection and a rifle safe in the living room. One of his knives — a folding Kershaw with a brown handle — would be ruled the murder weapon.

But that wasn't the only reason Justin looked suspicious to detectives.

The day of the murder, Nan-Yao had impulsively checked the house's security cameras from his desk at work, only to see a man wearing a ski mask covering them up. The man appeared to be young, thin, and white, he later told investigators. That described Justin, who admitted to police he sometimes covered the cameras when he held parties or just wanted to walk around the house naked and smoke pot.

When Nan-Yao called Justin to see if he was playing a prank, Justin told him he was at work but would go home to check the cameras. (His story would later change when he talked to police: He said he'd been studying at the Broward College library. Then he admitted that he hadn't gone to the library and said he'd been sleeping in his car in a parking garage at the Davie campus.)

During the interrogation, he told police he'd driven home and immediately gone to his room to drop off his keys and his wallet. Then he noticed his knife drawer was open. Detectives seized on that detail — why hadn't he checked on his mother first? They also questioned why he'd initially said it was a suicide, telling 911 dispatchers that his mother had stabbed herself and thrown herself in the bathtub.

When police arrived, Justin was covered in blood from the waist up. He said he'd hauled his mother out of the bathtub and tried to perform CPR. But he was perfectly clean from the waist down. Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle saw it as a sign he might have tried to change his clothes.

But Justin wouldn't crack. "I loved my mom," he insisted throughout the 12-hour interrogation. "She was the glue in my family, man. She held our family together. Honestly, I can't even see living with my dad... It would be crazy — he's really strict and shit."

Then, nine days after Jill Halliburton Su was found dead in her bathtub, the results came back from the Broward Sheriff's Office crime lab: A knife found outside the locked front door had registered a DNA match. It was Dayonte Resiles, who had been linked to several burglaries in affluent communities. The looped green belt that investigators found lying on a mat in the front foyer also showed Resiles' DNA.

The police called in Justin Su and apologized.

Shenel Campbell woke up early September 18, 2014, to the sound of her mother pounding on her bedroom door. "What did you do?" she was shouting. "Where were you last night?" Her aunt had just called to say police had shown up at her door. They were looking for Shenel.

Confused, the long-legged 20-year-old turned to her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Dayonte Resiles. The two had been planning for her ultrasound appointment that day. But instead, they decided to drive to the Broward jail to find out what was going on rather than risk a scene at the quiet Sunrise apartment complex. A friend offered a ride.

As they walked toward the gold Honda Civic, Campbell noticed the parking lot was unusually full. She quickly understood why. The moment they began backing the car out, close to a dozen Broward Sheriff's Office deputies, their guns drawn, emerged from undercover vehicles and surrounded the Civic. "Get down on the ground!" someone shouted. Resiles fell to the pavement, and the officers trained their finder scopes. A red dot hovered over Campbell's chest.

They were transported to the police station in Davie and placed in separate interrogation rooms. There, officers told Campbell that Resiles was wanted for the murder of Jill Halliburton Su. The girl was stunned. She thought she might have seen something about the murder on TV, but she knew Dayonte couldn't have had anything to do with it. She was sure he'd been in Atlanta until just recently — she'd seen the photos he'd posted on Facebook.

Hours later, police finally let her go. When she arrived home, the apartment complex was surrounded by news crews. She ducked past the reporters, went inside, and flipped on the TV. There was Dayonte, dressed in a jumpsuit, hands cuffed behind his back, being walked into jail.

"I thought he'd just be there for the night and then the judge would let him go home," she remembers.

Though Campbell was convinced of his innocence, neither she nor Resiles could explain how his DNA got on the knife.

Because of the outsize role it plays in TV crime dramas, DNA evidence is often assumed to be infallible. In reality, DNA results can easily be misinterpreted, particularly when police face pressure to identify a suspect.

A year after Resiles was charged with murder, Tiffany Roy, a former Massachusetts analyst who now works as a private forensics expert, blew the whistle on the BSO's crime lab after discovering its technicians were falsely claiming certain types of DNA evidence were conclusive. The lab is now on the verge of losing its accreditation, and the State Attorney's Office has begun the process of reopening approximately 2,000 closed cases affected by the issue.

There were other problems with the case. No one had reported seeing Resiles at the house the day of the murder. Video footage from the guard gates didn't show him entering. And something else didn't make a whole lot of sense: Why would he break in and take nothing but aggressively stab the owner of the house before leaving empty-handed? The chances of that scenario happening are low. According to the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, strangers are responsible for only a fifth of all murders. The bulk are committed by family members, intimate partners, or other acquaintances.

But Resiles was a young black man with a burglary record. Society had long ago labeled him dangerous. It didn't really matter that he had no history of violence.

When their daughter Ka-Miya was born the following March, Resiles was still in jail. Campbell called him from the hospital bed, holding the phone to the baby's ear so she could hear her father's voice. Then Campbell broke down and cried. She hadn't wanted to raise a child while finishing her high school diploma and working two jobs at Sawgrass Mills. She was worried about what people would say. But Resiles had been so excited to be a father. "He begged me to have the baby," Campbell says. "He just begged me and begged me, and finally I said OK."

Things didn't go as he'd planned. By summer 2016, Ka-Miya was nearing her second birthday, and Resiles had met her only briefly during visiting hours. He was still being held without bail. No trial was scheduled, and he couldn't understand what was taking so long. Unable to afford a private defense lawyer, Resiles began plotting his escape. Subpoenas, search warrants, police reports, and witness statements taken by police would later show how it happened.

The night of June 17, he called his girlfriend Laquay Stern, a nursing student at Bethune Cookman University, and used a not-so-subtle code to describe his plans.

"I'm gonna ask you this question," he told her, according to detectives' notes. "On the Bonnie-and-Clyde situation... Would you ride for me?"

"Yes," she answered.

"And if we ride and you had to shoot, would you shoot for me?" Resiles asked.

"Yep," Stern answered.

It's unclear whether Stern knew Resiles was also talking to two other women, Paige Jackson and Armonie Frankson-Dennis, both of whom considered themselves his girlfriends. Late into the night in the Broward County Jail, Resiles would work the phones. He told some family members that he needed money to buy a suit and tie for his trial, and others that he needed $100 for his bond.

Stern picked up $100 from a guy at the Oakland Park Flea Market. A cousin, Kretron Barnes, bought Nikes, a hoodie, and gym pants for Resiles to change into once he shed his prison jumpsuit. (In a sign that Resiles was as image-conscious as always, Barnes spent several minutes trying to color-coordinate the outfit.)

Meanwhile, Resiles and his friend Winston Russell calculated the fastest route out of the Broward County Courthouse, where they knew he'd soon appear for a hearing on whether he'd face the death penalty.

"If everything falls through like it's supposed to, I'm damn sure gone," he told a cousin identified only as LiLi during a conversation that, like all of his calls from jail, was being recorded. "I'm getting the fuck outta Dodge too."

The night of July 14, he asked his cell mate to switch bunks. He said he'd be going home the next day and wanted one last view of the jail from the window. The next morning, just before he walked into the courtroom, a fellow inmate, Walter Hart, allegedly loosened Resiles' handcuffs using a key Resiles had somehow acquired while in jail. Once he sat down, he swiftly unlatched his waist and ankle shackles. None of the lawyers or bailiffs milling about the room noticed.

"Are you Haitian?" he asked the inmate to his right, Joseph Kervens.

Kervens replied he was.

"I'm gonna get out of here," Resiles told him in Kreyol.

"How you gonna do that?" Kernes replied, still in Kreyol.

"I got some people to do some stuff for me," Resiles answered.

Then, at precisely 9:30 a.m., he flung himself out of the jury box, pushed through the door, and ran out of the courtroom. He descended four flights of stairs and shed his gray-and-white-striped prison jumpsuit as he sprinted to freedom.

Later, Sheriff Scott Israel would tell the media that Resiles' 17-year-old cousins, identical twins Kretron and Tre'Von Barnes, had been waiting in the courtroom for him to escape. One of them had allegedly coughed into a cell phone to let Stern know that he was headed toward the New River, where she was waiting in her dad's gray BMW. Before the Broward Sheriff's Office could finish setting up a perimeter, Resiles was gone.

Most of Resiles' relatives had no idea of his whereabouts. His mother learned about his escape from WSVN-TV. "Please, please do not kill my child," she remembers praying. "I couldn't sleep for a while. I'd ask God to cover him in the blood of Jesus so that no harm come upon him."

She and her youngest daughter, Joenay, stayed glued to the TV for six days as helicopters hovered overhead and the reward increased from $10,000 to $20,000 to $50,000. Meanwhile, police chased false leads to the Crossland Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, the La Quinta Inn in Coral Springs, and a park in Boynton Beach. They interviewed anyone who had ever placed money in Resiles' commissary account or visited him in jail. They even asked the airlines to turn over the lists of passengers who boarded flights out of Fort Lauderdale.

There were rumors: He was in Georgia, where he'd stashed $150,000 in a storage unit. He'd been spotted at a gas station in Texas. He'd gone to Haiti.

"Part of me wanted him to get out of this world and not be found," his godmother, Michelle Ring, says. "A black child [accused of murdering] a person with money, what chance does he have? We just don't want to see him framed for something he did not do."

Almost no one was eager to assist BSO in the search for Dayonte Resiles. Some people called in false tips. Others refused to help. One detective's report reveals that a young woman named Mercedes Jennings called the detective a "cracker," said "fuck the police," and averred that even if she knew where Resiles was, she wouldn't say, even for the $20,000 reward.

Six days after Resiles' escape, BSO raised the reward to $50,000. They immediately received two tips that Resiles could be found in a $76-per-night room at the Days Inn in West Palm Beach, just off I-95. Over the years, it had been the site of several murders, armed robberies, and countless drug deals.

Employees hadn't recognized Resiles but pointed out the room that a young woman named Jasmine Devaughn had rented for him. Around 6:30 p.m., close to 40 law enforcement officers surrounded the hotel where he'd been hiding out and eating Papa John's pizza.

When he realized he was cornered, Resiles later told friends, he felt sick to his stomach. He dropped to his knees and prayed for his death to come quickly if it had to come at all. If he survived, he promised, he would change his ways and stay out of trouble with the law.

Then he collapsed on the mildewy blue carpet.

A month later, grasping the pen so hard that his words dug into the page, Dayonte Resiles sat in his cell in the Broward County main jail and began composing a letter to Judge Raag Singhal.

"Your honor, I don't wish to waste your time, so I will get straight to the point," he began. "I want to apologize for escaping from your courtroom." Ever since he'd been taken into custody by the BSO's SWAT team and escorted back to jail, he'd become both a celebrity and a pariah. Guards spit in his food and blocked his phone calls, he told family and friends. He was confined to his cell for all but one hour per day. When he tried to contact a Sun Sentinel reporter, he was moved to 30-day lockdown.

"Though my actions are not excusable, at the time I did what I felt was in my best interest," he wrote in a bubbly high-schooler's print, round circles dotting each i. "As you are aware, I have been incarcerated close to 2 full years... I tried to appeal to everyone to prove to them I was innocent, but my voice went unheard."

One result of his escape is that he's now arguably the most famous local inmate since Pompano Beach hip-hop artist Kodak Black. Flowtly J, a local rapper, dropped a mixtape in which he theorizes that Jill Halliburton Su's murder was a conspiracy orchestrated by former Vice President Dick Cheney. Black Lives Matter is protesting prosecutors' decision to seek the death penalty in Resiles' case. Reporters attend the most mundane of his status hearings.

On the other hand, Resiles' moment in the spotlight will likely be over by the time he finally goes to trial in late 2017 or early 2018. And he faces the risk that prosecutors will present his decision to run away as an admission of guilt.

"I just ask for you to please judge me fairly," Resiles begs the judge in his letter. "When I escaped, my whole reason was to gather enough info on my case to prove my innocence. As you can see, I didn't commit any crimes, hurt anyone, or go far."

His fate will likely depend on whether his lawyer is able to successfully challenge the legitimacy of the DNA test linking him to the scene. Without that, prosecutors have nothing: no evidence that he'd ever been at Jill Halliburton Su's home, and no plausible motive.

That isn't to say he couldn't still be found guilty or executed. A study prepared for the American Bar Association shows that in Florida, a defendant's odds of receiving a death sentence were nearly five times higher if the victim was white.

Even if the murder charges are dropped, Resiles is still looking at anywhere from 15 to 50 years in prison for his escape. And then there are his three other pending felony charges — two for burglary and one for driving without a license in a car that had ammunition and pistol magazines in the trunk — which could tack on additional time to his sentence if he's convicted.

"He's man enough to take responsibility for his other crimes," his mother, Sha'Tavis Johnson, says. "But he refuses to lay down for something that he did not do. I just hope they take that lethal injection off of my child. I don't want to see my son get a lethal injection for a crime he didn't commit."

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Antonia Farzan is a fellow at New Times. After receiving a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, she moved to South Florida to pursue her dream of seeing a manatee and meeting DJ Khaled (ideally at the same time). She was born and raised in Rhode Island and has a BA in classics from Hamilton College.
Contact: Antonia Farzan