Miami man guilty in bizarre Santeria killing

South Florida Sun Sentinel, Mar. 22, 2003
http://www.sun-sentinel.com/
By Diana Marrero

MIAMI — At 30, Henry Cuesta has already spent a sixth of his life in jail awaiting trial for murder. On Friday, a Miami-Dade County jury convicted him in the contract killing of Dulce Diaz, a Santeria practitioner, eliminating his chances of ever being a free man.

In less than four hours, the jury found Cuesta guilty of first-degree murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He will be sentenced next month to mandatory life in prison without parole.

Diaz’s son, Isbett Mendez, who is still struggling to live without his mother, took solace in the jury’s decision.

“At least now I can sleep in peace knowing the guy who killed my mom is locked up for the rest of his life.”

Prosecutors also were pleased with the decision.

“We’re just glad justice delayed was not justice denied,” said Michael Gilfarb, an assistant state attorney who prosecuted the case. “[The family] has been waiting for this for a tremendously long time.”

During the trial, prosecutors told jurors Cuesta accepted a deal from Eusebio Hernandez, Diaz’s ex-husband, to kill Diaz and her new boyfriend for $6,000. Diaz’s boyfriend survived and helped lead investigators to Cuesta and Hernandez, who is awaiting trial on the same charges.

But Terrence Lenamon, an attorney for Cuesta, said prosecutors got a big part of the story wrong.

Cuesta agreed to the killings but backed out at the last minute, prompting Hernandez to find another hit man to kill his ex-wife, said Lenamon. He vowed to appeal.

“If you know the family, you would never in a million years think their son could do something like this,” said Lenamon, who described the Cuestas as a tight-knit, religious family who have never faltered in their belief that Henry Cuesta is innocent.

Lenamon said Cuesta is a former altar boy, who was a little slow but had never gotten in trouble with the law before.

Hernandez’s attorney has said his client is also not guilty of the crimes.

Prosecutors painted a different picture. They told jurors that Hernandez was a scorned ex-husband, who was consumed with jealousy and tried to harm Diaz through brujeria, witchcraft. When that failed, prosecutors said, Hernandez decided to hire a hit man to kill her. They said Cuesta didn’t hesitate to take Hernandez’s money because he was out of work and desperate for cash.

Cuesta, who had a young son, feared he would lose visitation rights if he didn’t come up with money for child support, prosecutors said. Instead, court records show Cuesta spent most of the money on a gambling spree, a blue 1964 Chevrolet Impala and a tattoo.

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