It was 9:45 a.m. on October 11, 2009, when Juan Carlos Portieles parked his beat-up Toyota Camry on a quiet side street in Miami-Dade's Cutler Bay. Tall and heavyset, with close-cropped brown hair and traces of stubble on his jaw, the 30-year-old DJ walked several blocks to a cluster of condominiums with beige walls and red-tiled roofs.
He approached a nondescript door and knocked. Isabelle Congote answered. Twenty-four years old and pretty, with light-brown hair and thin arched eyebrows, she wasn't happy to see Portieles. He had frantically called her house earlier that morning but wouldn't say much, only that he was in trouble, had gotten into a fight the previous night, and wanted to come over. Now he was pacing in the living room. His hazel-green eyes, usually half-closed and sunken into his face, were wide and bloodshot, as if he hadn't slept all night. He wouldn't stop cursing, and every now and then, he would say to no one in particular, "What am I going to do?" She thought he was still high or drunk from the night before.
Initially, he said a bunch of random guys had beaten him up at a gas station near Club Space in downtown Miami. But after a few minutes, Portieles changed his story. There had been no mugging. His fight had been with his 18-year-old girlfriend, Jaclyn Torrealba. They had been dancing at Space but began arguing inside the club and continued as he drove her home to Kendall. Finally, on a lonely stretch of road near Florida's Turnpike, he pulled the car over and began to punch and bite Torrealba. Then he put his hands around her throat and strangled her until she stopped moving. Her body, he said, was in the front seat of the Camry.
At first, Congote doubted he was serious. Then she noticed his hands, bruised and swollen. She saw blood on his pants, scratches on his face, and a cut on his lip. When he asked how to dispose of the body, there was nothing to suggest it was a sick practical joke — only the terrifying realization that the man in her house had killed a teenaged girl only a few hours earlier.
For Miami's nightlife denizens, Jaclyn Torrealba's killer wasn't known as Juan Carlos Portieles. He was Seasunz, a DJ and promoter whose name seemed to be on every club and event flier in the city. He had once been an honors student, but drugs and an inexplicable mental meltdown had transformed him into a perpetually drunk wannabe who would hand out his CDs to people waiting in line at the hottest nightclubs and hype himself as the next big thing. Then, this past July, a jury sent him to prison for life without parole. The man who had ruled the all-ages world had used his influence to seduce and kill a young woman. His arrest and the subsequent publicity dealt a death blow to a scene that once lit up America's best-known party metropolis: Miami, Florida.
At home in Hollywood, Eduardo Portieles paces in his living room and sobs. Shirtless and gaunt, with disheveled gray hair and round-rimmed glasses, he laments the life of Juan Carlos — the eldest of his two children — and the death of Jaclyn. "We miss her as if she were our own. I lost a daughter and a son," he weeps, tears gushing from his green eyes.
At the back of the house, in a room lined with floor-to-ceiling shelves full of vinyl records, stands a five-foot-tall file cabinet. The 54-year-old Portieles opens one of the drawers and pulls out a thick folder of loose-leaf paper. There are 96 sheets — diplomas, honor roll certificates, and elementary school spelling awards — all bearing Juan Carlos' name. Tears flowing, he flips through them, reading out each commendation and bit of praise. "You think this kid," he says, pausing on an award from Flagami Elementary School, "is the monster everyone has shown [on television]?"
Eduardo and his wife, Fidelia, didn't raise a monster, he says, alternating between broken English and rapid-fire Spanish. Their boy was a genius. He was reserved, quiet, and thoughtful. All he wanted to do was play music and bring people joy. Eduardo gestures at the vinyl LPs, some 14,000 in all. "He dedicated his whole life to this."
Juan Carlos was born January 21, 1979, in Sancti Spiritus, the capital city of a province in central Cuba. He was just over a year old when his parents left the country in the Mariel boatlift. They arrived in Miami on June 8, 1980, and moved around the city, finally settling in Hollywood in 2004 in a one-story pink stucco house purchased for $182,000 that Eduardo says Juan Carlos helped buy.
Throughout his childhood, he consistently impressed his teachers, from Flagami Elementary to Glades Middle School and up through Southwest Senior High. His transcript from Southwest is littered with A's, and he graduated in the top 5 percent of his class, 24th out of 515 students. Juan Carlos did so well, Eduardo says, that he could have finished high school early and gone to college at 16.