Adoptive father of slain girl: She tried to poison me
Reams of documents released by prosecutors offer a disturbing glimpse into the lives of Nubia Barahona and her adoptive family
BY DIANA MOSKOVITZ, DAVID OVALLE AND CAROL MARBIN MILLER
Soon after investigators believe Jorge Barahona beat his 10-year-old adopted daughter to death, he unexpectedly showed up to his sister’s house with the girl’s twin brother, Victor.
Victor sported a nasty cut to his lip. His wrist showed strange marks, as if someone had tied them together.
“What happened?” Laura Barahona asked her brother, according to a sworn statement released Wednesday, among 930 pages of documents made public by Palm Beach County prosecutors.
“I lost a child,’’ Jorge told his sister.
Barahona, she told detectives, struggled to explain himself: Nubia, he said, bolted from his truck near a Biscayne Boulevard motel. Then he suggested the girl was at home with his estranged wife. The marks on Victor’s wrists? He claimed his children were trying to poison him and had to be restrained.
“Let’s call the police. Turn yourself in,’’ Laura told her brother, according to a sworn statement. “Let me help you.’’
But Barahona did not turn himself in. Instead, he disappeared as Laura visited three police stations, and asked another brother to call state child welfare investigators in a desperate bid for help. None came.
Two days later, on Feb.14, Jorge was found by a road ranger slumped near his red pickup truck on the shoulder of Interstate 95. Victor, in the front seat nearby, was saturated with toxic chemicals.
The naked, decomposing body of Victor’s twin sister, Nubia, was found hours later, “folded’’ into a fetal position in a black garbage bag dumped in the truck’s flatbed.
Prosecutors in West Palm Beach — where Jorge Barahona is facing an attempted murder charge for harming Victor — released the documents Wednesday in response to media requests. In Miami-Dade, where he and wife Carmen Barahona are facing murder charges for Nubia’s death, a judge delayed ruling Wednesday on a similar request that defense lawyers are fighting.
The couple has pleaded not guilty.
“It’s unfortunate that this partial picture of Mr. Barahona is going to be out there without the total information from the defense,’’ Jorge Barahona’s lawyer, Edith Georgi, said late Wednesday. “All the information about Mr. Barahona’s mental deterioration will come out eventually.’’
Police reports say Nubia wasn’t discovered until hazardous-materials workers cleaned the pickup. A worker tried to move a large black garbage bag and “noted the contents to have the feel of a human extremity.’’ Once opened, the bag revealed what appeared to be a human hand.
In the ensuing days, police also searched the Barahonas’ West Miami-Dade home. Among the items seized: a bloodstained All American Baseball gray T-shirt, size 10; rolls of tape taken from a bedroom and the kitchen counter; bloodstains from a bedroom headboard; and apparent bloodstains from an armoire in the bedroom. Police also took swatches of carpet, a comforter, bedding, and several swabs of DNA.
Nubia and Victor had lived in the Barahonas’ home since 2004, when investigators with the Department of Children & Families removed them from their birth father. Their mother had been homeless and a longtime drug-abuser. Their father had been charged with molesting a neighbor. The twins were foster children until the Barahonas adopted them in 2009. During their seven-year stay with the Barahonas, the twins had been the subject of at least six reports to the state’s child abuse hotline.
For the last nine months of Nubia’s life, the twins had been tied up and locked in the bathroom of their adoptive parents’ home — where they were beaten with shoes and a blue wire cord police called a whip, Victor told police.
Victor remembered when he and his sister were locked in the bathroom, he told police, because it preceded his 10th birthday: May 26, 2010.
On Friday, Feb. 11, Jorge Barahona took Nubia from the tub where they’d been confined. For what Victor could only describe as “a long period of time,’’ the boy heard his sister scream as she was beaten to death, according to a police report.
Afterward, Jorge Barahona unexpectedly showed up at the house of his sister, whom he had not seen in three years. He appeared skinny, she told police, and claimed he had split with Carmen. Victor’s toys were in a black bag.
As the two slept at her house, the suspicious sister visited Carmen’s house to look for Nubia. “She couldn’t give me a straight answer,” Laura told detectives.
During their conversation, Jorge Barahona insisted he tied up the children because they tried to poison him. He summoned Victor, who repeated to his aunt, “Oh, we put rat poison in your drink,” according to the statement.
Laura later asked another brother, Julio, to call DCF. She also visited police stations in Broward County, Miami and Miami-Dade, but got little help, she told detectives.
The poison claim was one that Jorge Barahona repeated often, the records show. In an initial interview with police, Jorge Barahona denied killing Nubia, but insisted they were trying to poison him.
Carmen Barahona, in one statement, told detectives that her husband “was afraid because they were saying that they were putting poison in the food.” She also told police her husband was “psycho” and would call her often to accuse her of infidelity.
One of the couple’s other two adopted children, identified in records only by his initials, told police his “momma’’ would tape Nubia’s hands and legs, and forced the girl to eat in the bathtub, where they were naked. “She is a nice woman, but deep in the dark side, she’s mean,’’ the boy told police. If he misbehaved, the boy said, he would be forced to spend the day sitting in the corner.
Carmen Barahona, in several statements to police, cast blame on her husband. “He would hit them but if I ever got in between, OK, I would get it, too. He tell me get out of the way, stop it bitch.”
Nevertheless, Carmen told police she left the twins with her husband when they separated, and acknowledged that Jorge was in charge of the twins’ home-schooling.
“He said he was the one who was always taking care of them and disciplining them and he kept telling me ‘I’m the one that’s always putting up with all their sh-t,’ ” Carmen told police, in a conversation recorded as detectives were driving her to an appearance in juvenile court.
Nubia’s slaying cast a harsh spotlight on the Florida Department of Children & Families, which supported the Barahonas’ adoption of the twins despite multiple warnings of abuse. A three-member panel appointed by DCF’s secretary — which held public hearings and released reams of documents relating to the case — concluded that DCF erred in not detecting the abuse before Nubia’s body was found.
A Miami-Dade grand jury indicted the Barahonas in March. A firm trial date is likely years away, and the couple faces the death penalty.
The release of evidence came Wednesday as a Miami-Dade judge delayed ruling on a defense request to keep most of the evidence against the couple secret for fear of tainting a potential jury pool.
Under state law, most evidence in a criminal case — everything from police reports to witness statements to crime scene photos — is generally available to the public in a process known as “discovery.”
But defense lawyers asked Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel to seal most of the evidence, arguing disclosure in a highly-visible case would strip their clients of the right to a fair trial. The Miami Herald and other news outlets opposed the extraordinary measure, saying the defense had not proven it could not find an impartial jury in Miami-Dade.
Zabel acknowledged that she had no control over Palm Beach County releasing the evidence, but seemed to fret about the documents’ impact in today’s high-tech media environment. She noted that when she grew up, “there was no such thing as blogging ... you blink your eye and news can be released to the other side of the world.”