Dayonte Resiles killed Jill Halliburton Su by stabbing her to death and leaving her lifeless body in a bathtub in her Davie home — on that much, jurors could agree.
But they couldn’t agree on a murder charge, according to the jury forewoman, because three members refused to sign off on a verdict that would send a young Black man to prison for the rest of his life. For a short time, the nine who wanted a first-degree murder conviction were willing to budge. A manslaughter conviction would send Resiles to prison for 15 years, not for life. All 12 jurors signed off on manslaughter late Tuesday.
But that, according to the forewoman, would not have been justice. Not for her. Not for the defendant. Not for the victim. “What have I done?” she thought.
In an interview Thursday night, the forewoman, who asked not to be identified by name, shed light on what happened in the deliberation room in the days leading up to the hung jury and mistrial, describing a cauldron of anger, mistrust, betrayal and, underscoring it all, accusations of racial and anti-police bias.
It came to a head Tuesday night, when the manslaughter verdict was read, and the forewoman was faced with the usually-routine question of whether she agreed with the group’s decision.
Only a few seconds passed, but the forewoman’s mind was racing. She thought of the victim and the family left behind. She felt the eyes of the judge and the prosecutor and the victim’s husband boring into her. She was torn between her agreement with her fellow jurors and her firm belief that the prosecution proved Resiles guilty of murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
“I just got a knot in the pit of my stomach. I looked at the defense table. They were just cheering and patting him on the back, like he graduated high school or made the winning touchdown at a football game,” she said. “I thought, what have I done? Is this the world I am creating for my children, a world where someone can get away with murder because of the color of their skin?”
Finally, she recalled the advice her husband gave her before the trial started: “Follow the law. Don’t cave.”
She was convinced Resiles did not commit manslaughter on Sept. 8, 2014 — he committed murder. Manslaughter was not her verdict.
“No,” she told the judge. She didn’t agree.
Her answer prompted the judge to send the jury back to the deliberation room. Her fellow jurors were incensed, she recalled.
“If I do leave here with friends, that would be great,” she recalled saying. “But at the end of the day, I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to give justice to Jill. This was about her.”
Efforts to reach other jurors were unsuccessful on Friday.
The death of a Davie homeowner
Jill Halliburton Su, 59, lived with her husband and her 20-year-old son in a single-family home in the 10300 block of Southwest 22nd Place, just west of Nob Hill Road in a gated community called Westridge.
She was a distant relative, but not an heiress, of the founder of the Halliburton multinational energy corporation — the name Halliburton was avoided during the trial because of its political reputation and because the victim rarely used it.
She was married to Nan-Yao Su, a renowned professor of entomology at the University of Florida’s Food and Agricultural Sciences Research and Education Center in Fort Lauderdale. Her husband was the developer of Sentricon, a widely used termite-control product.
According to those who knew her, Su spoke often of her butterfly garden and love of home landscaping. She volunteered for years as a reader at Insight for the Blind, a Fort Lauderdale nonprofit that produces audio recordings of books and articles for the visually impaired.
Before she died, she and her husband went on a trip to Malaysia. They returned the day before the murder. It was Justin Su who found his mother’s body in a bathtub nearly filled with bloody water. He pulled her out, then called 911.
“My mom killed herself!” he cried out to the 911 dispatcher. “She just stabbed herself and threw herself in the bathtub!” During the call, it became clear to the young man that his mother had been murdered. The weapon was in the bathtub. Resiles’ DNA was on another knife and on the belt of a bathrobe the victim had been wearing.
The defense argued that the DNA match was the result of evidence contamination.
The mistrial allows prosecutors Maria Schneider and Molly McGuire to try again to get a conviction on the most serious charge. It also gives defense lawyers Michael Orlando and Allari Domínguez a second chance to win an acquittal.
Highly charged jury room
The forewoman in the recent trial described herself as a mixed-race Puerto Rican, a 36-year-old wife and mother in a blended family of five children, ranging in age from 3 to 17. When two Black jurors accused her of not caring about the race of the defendant, she said she was tempted to show pictures of her dark-skinned mother and brother.
“You can’t call me a racist except in ignorance,” she said. “If it was my brother who was accused and the same set of facts was presented, I could have voted guilty of first-degree murder … That’s what the evidence showed. It’s not a racial thing. It’s a crime. He is the killer. I don’t care what race he is.”
But other members of the diverse jury did, she said. And once the narrative set in that she “did not care” about sending a Black man to prison for life, it was impossible to reset it, she said.
The withdrawn guilty verdict was only the most recent twist in the case, which started with police first looking at the victim’s son as a suspect — only to change course when DNA found at the scene was matched to Resiles, who had a history of nonviolent burglaries (some of which are still awaiting legal resolution).
In 2016, Resiles escaped from a crowded courtroom and led police on a six-day manhunt. Then, according investigators, he hatched another plan to construct an alibi placing him in Georgia at the time of the murder. Between those two alleged crimes, Resiles is facing nearly 50 additional criminal charges, not including alleged burglaries that took place before the Su murder.
Defense lawyers characterize the alleged actions as desperate but ill-advised attempts by Resiles to prove his innocence.
Although Resiles has not gone to trial for the escape and alibi plots, jurors in the murder case were allowed to hear about the accusations, and they factored into the majority’s conclusion that Resiles was guilty of murder, the forewoman said.
“You don’t need to bribe police officers and get your friends to lie about alibi when you’re not guilty,” she said.
The bitter experience left the forewoman with no regrets. She was selected for the jury on her birthday and was enthusiastic about participating in her first trial.
For the next jury, she said her advice is simple.
“I hope the next jury goes by the rules and only by the rules, and does not let anything else come into play,” she said. “Then we’ll see justice.”
Jury selection for Resiles’ retrial is set for Jan. 3.