Muscles, Murder, and a Messiah | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Muscles, Murder, and a Messiah

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The door opens. A guard removes Fernandez's handcuffs. He smiles and wraps Contini in his big meaty arms. They pat each other on the back repeatedly.

"God bless, John," Fernandez says. "God bless."

They sit together at a table in the visitor's room. Fernandez holds out his hands. Contini grabs them. They bow their heads. Fernandez prays; it's a long, poetic homily that weaves smoothly from biblical verses to issues of the day.

Fernandez looks up. He leans over the wooden table, his arms outstretched and hands clutching the Good Book.

"I'm a new man," Fernandez says. "It don't matter what society says. It don't matter. It only matters what God says."

Prison chaplains and guards confirm that since entering the penal system in 1991, Fernandez has dedicated his life to ministry. Every night, he and other prisoners gather in his cell for Bible studies. During the day, he can often be found in the middle of the prison yard, preaching and reading aloud from the Bible. Inmates aren't always receptive.

"Sometimes it starts a revival," Fernandez admits. "Sometimes it causes a riot. But I'm the messenger. I'm delivering messages."

He calls his prison work Armed and Dangerous Ministries and passes out to inmates a pamphlet that tells his personal tale of salvation. "I was on a one-way ticket, with no return, to hell," he tells them. Fernandez will discuss his crimes, but only vaguely. The prisoners know he was a cop; they know he did something bad, killed a few people. But Fernandez, even in the pamphlet that tells his story, doesn't call himself a murderer. In fact, throughout his trial and even to this day, Fernandez will admit to wrongdoing: drugs, violence, extortion, womanizing. He just won't admit to killing.

His pamphlet reads: "In 1990, I was arrested for a case that happened before my conversion to Christ; and one year later, I was sentenced to three life sentences, with 75 years mandatory. My Heavenly Father knows the truth and knows my heart, where it's been and where it's at. God also knows my jail and prison ministry."

In fact, among the people Fernandez has led to Christianity is his former lawyer, Contini. For the past decade, Contini has traveled the 700 miles roundtrip every other month to visit Fernandez. They've become friends, "brothers in Christ," as they call it.

"To the same extent that Gil had fervor, arguably, for ungodly things, he has that same fervor and passion and commitment to a Godly witness and sharing his testimony," Contini says. "That's the way he's been ever since I met him. He's the closest thing I've ever seen to a Saul-turning-Paul character."

According to biblical story, Saul of Tarsus, a Roman citizen, was among the most vicious persecutors of Christians. But while on the road to Damascus, Saul saw a vision of Christ. It sparked his religious conversion. He changed his name to Paul and became Christianity's most prolific apostle, credited with writing 14 of the 27 books that make up the New Testament. Even while imprisoned in Philippi, the Apostle Paul continued to serve as a disciple.

Fernandez believes he's in a similar position. "God used Paul in prison to write and encourage many on the outside," Fernandez says. "Why? Where much is given, then much is required. Amen. I find it an honor and privilege that the King of Glory would allow me to encourage many on the outside."

Like Paul, Fernandez was a sinner.

And the ex-cop left a long trail of blood on his own road to Damascus.

Fernandez says he just wanted to be a good cop. At 17 years old, the Puerto Rican-American moved with his family from New York City to Hollywood. His parents operated a beauty salon in Miami, and Fernandez would sometimes help out. But he had loftier ambitions.

In July 1975, Fernandez went to the Metro-Dade Police Department (now known as the Miami-Dade Police Department) and filled out an application. According to personnel records, he was more than qualified. Fernandez, then 23 years old, was in peak physical condition and fluent in English and Spanish and had an associate's degree in law enforcement from Broward Community College. With Miami's Latin population exploding in the '70s, Fernandez was the type of young officer police brass wanted to recruit. He was hired in March 1976.

At first, police officer Fernandez was reserved, even shy, personnel reports show. But as his confidence grew, so did his attitude.

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson

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