Man sentenced to 13 years in prison for killing teen, setting her body on fire

Armando Botell had intimate relationship with victim, police say


MIAMI – A South Florida man accepted a plea deal Thursday in the 2014 killing of a 17-year-old girl and was sentenced to 13 years in state prison with credit for time served.

Armando Botell, who was 66 when he killed Romina Fernandez, pleaded guilty to murder and mutilating a corpse.

As part of his plea deal, his prison sentence will be followed by two years of community control with an electronic monitor and eight years of probation.

He is not allowed to have unsupervised visits with minors and has been ordered to stay away from Government Center in downtown Miami, which prosecutors said was a former hangout of his.

According to authorities, Fernandez's body was found Oct. 11, 2014, after Sweetwater police officers and Miami-Dade Fire Rescue crews were called to reports of a fire in the area of Flagler Street and 114th Avenue.

Police said Fernandez's body was discovered inside a dumpster once the fire in the rear alley of a strip mall was extinguished.

According to an arrest report, Fernandez's body was burned beyond recognition and she was identified through dental records. The medical examiner's office ruled her death a homicide.

Police said Fernandez was reported missing the same day she was found.

According to the report, Botell, now 70, had been selling the victim Xanax and other drugs since she was 15 years old, and had an intimate relationship with her that became obsessive.

Police said Botell had nude pictures of Fernandez and "paid a friend to follow the victim around."

According to witnesses, Botell admitted to them that he had become physically abusive toward Fernandez and was "emotionally distraught over his obsession with the victim."

Police said cellular tower records showed that Botell's and Fernandez's cellphones were pinging from the same tower the day she was reported missing. They said surveillance video from the shopping plaza also showed Botell's silver Mercedes-Benz at the scene, and Botell dumping off the victim's body and setting it on fire.

According to detectives, Botell and Fernandez met up the day she was killed at about 2:30 a.m. in downtown Miami and eventually ended up together in Sweetwater, where the victim lived.

Police said Botell was interviewed by investigators in February 2015 and in May 2015 prior to his arrest. Witnesses told detectives that Botell became "anxious and nervous" after the February questioning, and asked people to help him flee to South America.

Police said Botell's statements contradicted witness testimony and the cellular tower records that placed him at the scene.

After the hearing, Local 10 News reporter Liane Morejon spoke with Botell's attorney.

"He is very sorry and very remorseful about what happened, and it's a tragedy for the family of Romina, the victim," attorney Robert Finlay said. 

Another lawyer who attended the hearing, George Pallas, represented the family of another one of Botell's victims who was killed in the 1980s. He said Botell should have been deported to Cuba after he had finished serving his initial sentence. 

"Thirteen years for a serial killer who should not even be walking the streets, who killed a 17-year-old girl, is totally inadequate," Pallas said. "I represent the victim of the original murder back in the 80s, whose mother was killed by the same man. (Botell) served time in prison. He should have been deported. He was believed to have been deported, but apparently not. He was walking the streets." 

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