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The arranged marriage between a South Florida woman and a Romanian man was a secret business deal. He was paying her $500 a month so he could become a U.S. citizen.
But before they could file the citizenship paperwork, the woman was murdered — by her live-in boyfriend.
Prosecutors say Yusef Jamal Green slit Lauren Ashley White’s throat five years ago this week, after discovering she was married to a foreign national. But it’s still unclear when a jury will decide the fate of Green, 41.
All murder trials have been on hold since early March because of COVID-19 restrictions at the Palm Beach County Courthouse.
Green’s lawyers don’t dispute that he killed his 27-year-old girlfriend inside her Lake Worth apartment. They argue he was insane at the time and should be locked up in a mental health facility rather than sent to state prison for life. For now, he remains in custody at the county jail.
Court records provide details about the slaying, Green’s unsuccessful attempts to cover it up and the evolving prosecution.
Bloody crime scene
Ursula White Lemmens told detectives that she spoke with or texted her granddaughter Lauren White every day. But by Jan. 3, 2016, Lemmens was worried because it had been three days since she last heard from her.
So Lemmens decided to go to the apartment at 1702 S. Dixie Highway, which she owned and where White lived with her boyfriend, Yusef Green.
Upon arriving, Lemmens noticed White’s car, a 2010 black Honda, wasn’t parked out front. She went to the second floor unit and knocked, but no one answered. She looked through a window and saw a burning candle.
That’s when she called the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Deputies entered the apartment through an unlocked window.
They reported finding blood spattered on the floor and walls and immediately encountering the strong odor of a decomposing body.
Behind a living room couch, they found White wrapped in a sheet and bed covers, under a pillow and a rug. Yankee Candle air fresheners were placed inside the bedding. An autopsy later determined White had been killed by a cut on her neck, and it was a homicide.
Investigators found signs of a bloody struggle, including a broken glass candle. They ruled out a break-in, noting that the front door had been locked. Towels covered the floor, concealing bloody footprints left there by Green. In the bathroom, a box of bandages and discarded wrappers lay on the floor.
And there was one more clue: A notebook journal was found in the bedroom closet. On the page left open, Green had written that White was unfaithful.
Married for money
White’s grandmother told a detective that White had been married to a Romanian citizen named Alexandru Nicolae for money, despite her continuing a romantic relationship with Green.
Green had recently discovered paperwork about the secret marriage, Lemmens said. She said White had told her that Green threatened to call immigration authorities and report her if White tried to evict him from the apartment.
Nicolae, who has a Miami address listed in court records, told the same detective that he had known White for years. He said he was supposed to see White at a Starbucks on Jan. 3, prior to a meeting the next day at their accountant’s office to finalize the citizenship documents.
Nicolae said he had received a text from White’s phone at 4 p.m. Jan. 2, but she was uncharacteristically unreachable when he tried to follow up about their plans.
When contacted recently by the South Florida Sun Sentinel on his cellphone, Nicolae said he had “no comments right now.”
Lemmens died six months after her granddaughter was killed, according to an obituary published online by a West Palm Beach funeral home.
Under federal immigration law, someone who holds a green card, or permanent resident status, must be married to a U.S. citizen for three years before applying for citizenship.
Specifics about Nicolae and White’s marriage, or his immigration status, aren’t clear from the murder case filings. Nicolae is listed as a witness for the trial.
Tulio G. Suarez, an attorney who specializes in immigration matters for the Devore Law Group in Palm Beach Gardens, said federal authorities typically investigate to make sure a marriage is for love or companionship, and not a business arrangement.
Violators are warned they could face fines and other penalties, but people still try to game the system run by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, said Suarez, who is not connected with the Green case.
“It’s not unheard of at all, unfortunately,” he said.
Arrest in Daytona Beach
The murder investigation moved quickly to locate Green, aided by tracking down his and White’s cellphones.
It was discovered that White’s device was used to text her employer, not specified in the records, on Dec. 31 and again on Jan. 1. First, a text reported her absence from work because her mom had a heart attack, and the next day’s message reported her mother’s death, along with a request for a paycheck advance.
“In actuality, Lauren White’s mother did not suffer a heart attack or die as stated in the text messages,” wrote Detective Stephen Ultsh, adding that it was Green pretending to be White.
Investigators also found that White’s and Green’s phones were turned off for six hours on Jan. 2, before a signal was traced to Green’s step-grandfather’s house in Daytona Beach. A major development happened on Jan. 5, when White’s car was discovered in the parking lot of a Flagler County bar.
The next day, Ultsh and another detective drove 200 miles north to the step-granddad’s house. They were told that Green hours earlier had cut his wrists in a failed attempt to kill himself and was taken to a hospital. Green told a cousin he had “messed up,” records show.
The detectives said they later found White’s phone, broken and thrown out near a Travel Inn that Green stayed at for three nights after arriving in town after the murder.
Daytona Beach Police grabbed Green just as he was leaving the hospital, arresting him on a probation violation from a prior felony. He refused to talk and requested a lawyer. The next day, investigators matched Green’s DNA to the bloody crime scene in White’s apartment.
Claim of insanity
The case has moved slowly since Green was first charged with first-degree murder. That’s mainly because the State Attorney’s Office had been seeking the death penalty for Green until early last year.
Prosecutors initially said capital punishment was justified because the killing was “heinous, atrocious or cruel,” and Green had been previously convicted of a felony involving the use or threat of violence.
Records show that Green, who lived for a time in Fort Lauderdale, had two prior felony cases in Palm Beach County.
In 2012, he received a sentence of three years of probation on a charge of dealing in stolen property; and in 2013, he was sentenced to five years of probation on an aggravated assault with a deadly weapon conviction.
Last February, Assistant State Attorney Chrichet Mixon announced that her office was no longer seeking capital punishment. No reason was given for the change.
Mixon declined to comment, citing the open case.
Green’s lawyers have claimed he is “exempt from execution” because of a two-decade-long history of psychiatric problems. They are preparing an insanity defense for trial.
The Public Defender’s Office, which is representing Green, says he has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
“It is beyond reasonable dispute that Mr. Green is severely mentally ill,” wrote Joseph Walsh, his lead attorney. “The conditions and characteristics that led Mr. Green to commit this tragic crime, moreover, had plagued him from the time he was a young adult.”
Walsh also noted that his client was “labeled as low intelligence” from early childhood, dealt with constant moves around eight states, and at one point suffered a “traumatic head injury.”
The defense lawyer declined to comment about the case, which will be a battle of mental health experts. Prosecutors are setting out to prove that Green was fully aware of his violent actions, and efforts to hide the crime.
A clinical psychologist hired by the defense will testify that Green was experiencing delusions when he ended his girlfriend’s life and doesn’t belong in prison.
Marc Freeman can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @marcjfreeman.