It Was a Ruthless, Professional Hit, and It Was the Cops Doing the Shooting

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Andrew's crimes were poorly planned, fumblingly executed, and never violent. Each time, he pleaded guilty, served his time, and then quickly re-offended. In 1997, cops caught him breaking into a car in the crowded lot of Traz Powell Stadium during a high school football game. In January 1998, he sold weed to an undercover cop and was sentenced to another two years. "Every time life was getting back to normal, he got arrested," Ladonna remembers.

When tragedy struck again later that year, it wasn't Andrew's fault. While he was in jail, Ladonna gave birth to their second son, Anthony. But the child was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer. Andrew was out in time to watch his son walk and then start to stumble as the cancer ate at the toddler's muscles. "He loved his kids," his sister Jennifer says. "He would have done anything for them."

With no job to pay for Anthony's chemotherapy, Andrew turned back to crime. When cops pulled him over January 25, 2001, for a routine traffic stop, they found a silver 9mm pistol under his back seat. He was sentenced to three years.

Andrew saw his son only once more. On February 6, 2002, a judge granted him a furlough to visit Anthony, then 3 years old. His cancer had returned. As an armed guard waited outside the Miami Children's Hospital room, Andrew signed papers to take Anthony off life support. Then he sat with the comatose child until his two hours of furlough were up. Anthony died later that day.

When Andrew was released in 2004, the first thing he did was ask Ladonna for forgiveness. His mother had died from bone cancer while he was in prison. Ladonna had moved on. But the repeat felon promised to stay out of jail to help raise their surviving son, A.J.

For seven years, he kept his word. He found work as a nightclub bouncer; then he started his own business — a lawn-care service called the Rite Choice. He even began to take care of A.J., driving him to the mall to buy school clothes and teaching him to play basketball.

"For Andrew, seven years without going to jail was a miracle," Ladonna says. "I thought he had turned his life around."

It's still not clear how or when Andrew hooked up with the gang he was with the night he died. What is certain is that the group's ringleader was a violent criminal headed for disaster. Records show that Roger Gonzalez Sr. was an intelligent but ruthless man who masterminded scores of violent home invasions, sometimes targeting drug dealers or crooks — but also robbing innocent families. He threatened rape or murder and even outright tortured victims to force them to reveal the locations of jewelry or safes. And he was training his son to do the same.

Records also reveal another reason police decided to set an elaborate trap for Gonzalez in the Redland: Not only had he been busted in a similar raid years before — leaving him well acquainted with police techniques — but he had also been let out of jail early after working as a confidential informant.

Gonzalez's increasingly violent escapades began 15 years ago in Little Havana. On January 17, 1997, Jessica Rivera answered her front door. A smiling man held out a bouquet of flowers. When she let him inside, however, he thrust a gun in her face. Several more gunmen walked in and threatened to kill her if she didn't open her father's safe. When she couldn't give them the combination, they vanished.

Soon, Florida Department of Law Enforcement officials started to notice a pattern of similar violent home invasions. The same group struck again in March, July, and several times in August. A few weeks later, they used flex cuffs to restrain a woman and threatened to rape her and her daughter. They stole $30,000 worth of her jewelry, according to a police report.

Police quickly determined that Gonzalez — a balding, short, sallow-skinned Cuban immigrant — was the gang's leader. They tapped his phones and started surveillance. Then, in October 1997, they convinced an ex-con named Jesus Marrero to infiltrate the crew. Marrero told the ringleader that he knew of a warehouse where drug traffickers stored 100 kilos of cocaine. Gonzalez cannily evaded the sting — thanks to a spy sent up to the warehouse roof who spotted the SWAT team inside — but he was arrested the next week in Collier County.

In jail, the crook began cooperating with prosecutors and police. Facing more than 20 counts of kidnapping, armed robbery, racketeering, and attempted cocaine trafficking, he signed a deal sentencing him to 14 years and a chance to leave early if he helped the cops.

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Michael E. Miller