Murder-for-hire trial: Texts reveal details about veteran's killing
By FRANK FERNANDEZ | The News-Journal | Published: January 9, 2019
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Tribune News Service) — A drug dealer on trial accused of paying a hitman $1,000 to kill a witness in a road rage case against him got a brief message on his cellphone: "I handled that."
When Kelsey McFoley got that message it meant that U.S. Army veteran Carlos Cruz-Echevarria, 60, had been shot to death on Nov. 11, 2017 — Veterans Day — just down the street from his Deltona home.
McFoley, 28, is on trial charged with first-degree murder in the veteran's killing. A jury of 10 women and three men including an alternate is hearing the case which is expected to last at least through Thursday in Circuit Judge Matt Foxman's courtroom at the S. James Foxman Justice Center.
Assistant State Attorney Ryan Will told jurors that McFoley had been offered a plea deal that would have sent him to prison for three years in the road rage case instead of the up to 15 years he would face if convicted at trial.
Instead McFoley, described by Volusia County sheriff's deputies as a heroin dealer, hired Benjamin Jaquaric Antonio Bascom, 25, to eliminate Cruz-Echevarria, who was the victim and the critical witness against him in the road rage case. McFoley was accused of pointing a gun at the veteran after the men exchange words in traffic.
"The defendant Kelsey McFoley had Carlos Cruz-Echevarria killed for the simple reason that he did not wish to face the consequences of his own actions," Will told the jury during his opening statement. "And the further we develop the facts of our own case the more that you will realize that this crime was an execution, that this crime was a murder-for-hire and that this crime was witness elimination."
Cruz-Echevarria was killed less than a month before he was scheduled to give a deposition in the road rage case against McFoley.
Investigators have previously said that Cruz-Echevarria was apparently being a good Samaritan trying to help the stranded Bascom, having no idea he was helping the man who was on a mission to kill him.
McFoley was under investigation by the FBI in an unrelated case and the feds found he had pictures on his cellphone of a police report and witness list about the road rage incident containing Cruz-Echevarria's address.
Bascom is also charged with first-degree murder along with McFoley's girlfriend, Melissa Rios-Roque, 21, in Cruz-Echevarria's slaying. Only McFoley is on trial currently but all three face up to life in prison if they are convicted.
Rios-Roque is pregnant with McFoley's child.
McFoley has 29 previous felony charges with one conviction and nine previous misdemeanors with three convictions, according to the Volusia County Sheriff's Office.
CourtTV, which will again begin broadcasting this year after a 10-year recess, is filming the trial with remote-controlled cameras operated by a crew in the courtroom. The trial is expected to air on the network in May.
McFoley, wearing a suit, would sometimes lean over to speak to his court appointed attorney, Kevin Proulx, during the trial. At the end of the day Tuesday, McFoley asked Judge Foxman to order the jail to give him a haircut. The judge said that decision would be up to the jail.
The text messages read and shown to the jury tell the story of the assassination, according to Will.
The messages show as McFoley helps Bascom stalk Cruz-Echevarria, McFoley tells Bascom that there should be a truck in the yard with no bed and a Honda or Mercedes car.
Prosecutor Will told jurors that Cruz-Echevarria had a truck with no bed in his driveway and a Honda and a BMW parked alongside it. He also had a pickup truck.
On the day of the killing, Bascom drove a stolen silver Chrysler 200 to Cruz-Echevarria's neighborhood. He parked the stolen car alongside the road not far from Cruz-Echevarria's home, and the car got mired in a ditch.
At 5:37 p.m., Bascom texted, "stuck in a ditch smh." The smh is shorthand for "shaking my head."
McFoley texted Bascom back, including at 5:44 p.m.: "Make it happen and make a clean get away. If car done, still set it on fire on you way out."
Investigators later found an empty gas container in the back of the Chrysler. The car's interior smelled of gasoline. But it had not been set on fire. On the plastic gas container they found Bascom's fingerprints, Will said. They also found plastic sheeting in the front seat of the car.
Cruz-Echevarria's pickup was later found torched in Apopka.
McFoley's girlfriend, Rios-Roque, drove to Deltona to pick up Bascom. McFoley texted Rios-Roque, "Dont get pulled over with him." And she responds "Duh. Have him delete messages too."
At 7:27 p.m., Rios-Roque texts McFoley, "He working on car too."
According to testimony, Volusia County Sheriff's Office investigators found some tools, a jackstand and a fresh drink next to a car in Cruz-Echevarria's driveway.
At 8:20 p.m. there was a 12 second voice call between McFoley and Bascom. Then six minutes later Bascom texts to McFoley, "I handled that."
McFoley then texts, "Where u at bro."
Then McFoley texts Bascom again, "Did u do wrong person."
Bascom texts back, "No just him."
Bascom then texts McFoley that he has "the id" and that the first name on it is "Carlos."
McFoley replies, "Okay, i will confirm it."