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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According to statements that Carbone later gave to the FBI and BSO about the execution of Robertson and his associates, Leahy and Tringali, in the canal by Danger Road, Fernandez, Carbone, and Felts later drove north of U.S. Highway 27, turning right on Sheridan Street. They headed toward the ocean. As the Grand Prix crossed over the Sheridan Street bridge, which spans the Intracoastal Waterway, Fernandez threw his gun in the water.

Driving the Grand Prix, Felts pulled into a gas station on A1A. Christie stood there. He leaned into the car.

"Was it done?" Carbone remembered Christie's asking.

One week later, Fernandez resigned without reason from the Miami-Dade Police Department. Later that year, he won the Mr. Florida Bodybuilding Contest.

Union Correctional Institution is an oppressive place. Fernandez calls it "hell above ground." He says he's seen the worst of man in here: guards beating captives; inmates gang-raping weak prisoners and stabbing others; men masturbating in the yard, then flinging their semen at others.

"This is the worst toilet bowl of all," Fernandez says. "And what goes in a toilet bowl? Crap. A lot of guys here are cold, angry. They're hard. In prison, you're so down and out, you gotta look up to look down."

Most would agree that a brutal murderer like Fernandez deserves nothing less. In fact, he expresses the same opinion, although in the cagey way he has about discussing his crimes. "If I didn't know me now, I would like the man I was [before being saved]," Fernandez says. "Though I'm getting old, the Holy Spirit has made my soul young. It's the Christ in me."

Fernandez says his path to salvation started in an Atlanta hotel room in 1987. On his way to check out, he opened the nightstand drawer. He doesn't know why. He saw a Gideon Bible and picked it up. "I brought it home and put it on my nightstand," he remembers. "It stayed there until 1989."

During this time, Fernandez's wife had been feeling a spiritual calling, he says. She wanted to go to church. She nagged. He resisted. Fernandez had time to worship only his body. In early 1989, he purchased the Apollo Gym from Christie and continued to train himself for bodybuilding contests. But in August of that year, he slipped and fell, breaking his ankle. While in the hospital, he received a call. To this day, he doesn't know who it was from or even if the person had the right number, he says.

"We just called to say we love you, and we're praying for you," the caller said.

Something overcame Fernandez at that moment, he says. "I lay in that hospital bed, and all I could do is cry," he remembers. "Everything I'd done in my life flashed before me. I could see all the foolishness. And at that moment, I wanted to go to church."

He called his wife. It was Sunday, August 13, 1989. Together, they drove to Cornerstone Church in Davie for a Sunday service. Fernandez hobbled into the church with crutches and sat down in one of the pews. "I started crying," Fernandez says.

Pastor Dominick Avello began his sermon. He asked for those who had not accepted God to come to the altar. "Why don't you come to the one that gave you life?" Fernandez remembered Avello's saying.

"As I made the call at the altar, he did come up," Avello later remembered in court.

Fernandez lifted himself up and slid the crutches under his arms. He tottered slowly toward the front of the church. Tears streamed down his face. He lost his balance. He fell, sobbing. A man ran toward him and placed his hand on Fernandez's head.

"You want to get saved?" the man asked him.

"Yes," Fernandez said through his snot and tears. "I want to get saved."

The man helped up the hulking Fernandez and began to walk him toward the altar.

"When I got up, it felt like the weight of the world had been taken off my shoulders," he says now.

One month later, Pastor Avello baptized Fernandez in a community swimming pool. "The old man is put to death in a Christian baptism, and a new man walks and rises," Avello explained in court.

Fernandez seemed to turn his life around. He started to spend more time with his young son, Gilbert III, who was then 7. His wife would soon be pregnant with their second child. They had a happy life in their modest home in Pembroke Pines.

"I buried the man I was in that watery grave," Fernandez says. "From there, I knew my life had changed. Once I got saved, no more steroids, no more womanizing, no more alcohol, no more drugs. I got everything I desired. I was going to serve the Lord."

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Trevor Aaronson
Contact: Trevor Aaronson

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