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Heyzel Obando was found shot and killed in her Fort Myers, Florida, home around Valentine’s Day, 2016. Obando’s mother, Isabel del Carmen Martin, took in her two young children and spent three long, painful years hoping for justice. But the case continued to be worked, along with almost 200 other cold case homicides on the police department’s books.
In May 2019, however, Oxygen’s “Cold Justice” came to town, determined to help solve the case.
Detectives had suspicions about Obando’s live-in boyfriend, Earl Antonio Joiner, a 33-year-old former University of Florida football star, from the beginning. He was the one who called 911 after allegedly coming upon his girlfriend’s bloody body that afternoon. His demeanor on the call struck investigators as odd.
On the recording, Joiner can be heard repeatedly apologizing — it's unclear to whom — and calling the dispatcher “sir.”
“The ‘I’m sorry’ really sticks out,” Fort Myers Police Sergeant Lisa Breneman told “Cold Justice” investigators. “If he just found his girlfriend bleeding there, why is he sorry?”
Joiner was overly polite, which Breneman found “odd in a traumatic situation.”
Then there were the domestic abuse allegations. And the suspected affairs — police identified several women they believe Joiner may have been involved with at the time of Obando’s murder. He often went to strip clubs, and that drove a wedge between him and Obando, friends told “Cold Justice.”
But Joiner quickly stopped talking to police at all, according to “Cold Justice.” He was allegedly out of town, visiting his mother in Winter Haven with his and Obando’s two daughters at the time his girlfriend was murdered. When he came home, he said, he found her dead on the floor.
“Cold Justice’s prosecutor Kelly Siegler and homicide investigator Tonya Rider brought with them digital forensics expert Eric Devlin, and together they all re-interview scores of old witnesses, and tracked down new ones.
“One thing bringing in ‘Cold Justice’ allowed us to do was to spend nine days — almost like a blitz attack — working nothing but this case,” Breneman said at a 2019 news conference announcing Joiner’s arrest. “It’s a luxury we don’t often have, because of fresh cases and other things coming in.”
Fort Myers police first brought the team to the apartment where Obando was killed. Careful inspection indicated that it was unlikely the young mother was killed by a burglar or home invader. The only piece of evidence that could have suggested that — a broken door frame — could also be the result of a past incident of domestic violence, investigators concluded.
Investigators were also puzzled by Joiner leaving on Valentine’s weekend to visit his mother, with both daughters in tow. Apparently, he rarely traveled with the girls. And, on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, the couple was exchanging heated text messages, while Joiner apparently spent an inordinate amount of money at two local strip clubs.
A former dancer at one of the clubs told the investigators that she knew Joiner as a regular and, that Friday night, he was spending a lot of money. Joiner asked her to go home with him, but she refused, she said. Digital records indicated that Joiner made six $100 withdrawals that night at one of the strip clubs — and that Obando noticed, texting a friend to complain that her boyfriend was taking money from their joint account.
The “Cold Justice” digital forensics expert, Devlin, found a two-and-a-half-hour call between Joiner and his mother and brother late Friday night, and several strange selfies Joiner sent to his brother in which he looked like he was crying.
The team also reviewed Obando’s autopsy report, which indicated that she may have been dead for as long as 24 to 36 hours before the ambulance arrived. This meant that, if Joiner did it, he had time to murder her late that Friday night, take the girls to Winter Haven and return to “find” his girlfriend’s body on Sunday.
Rider joined Fort Myers Police Detective Maalisa Langton, armed with new evidence, in trying to get Joiner to talk. Luckily, they caught him off-guard, in a tense recorded interview featured on the episode.
Joiner is cocky at first in the interview. The seasoned investigators first compliment him by telling him he’s “obviously a very attractive man,” then ask him point blank why he left with the girls that weekend. They ask him if he was in a fight with Obando. Joiner insists that he was not.
“That’s bulls—t, Tony,” Langton says, also asking Joiner about guns he has owned, until the suspect cuts the interview off.
Although Joiner is “a hard man to pin down,” Rider says, the team felt at that point ready to charge the first and only true suspect in Heyzel Obando’s murder.
On June 8, 2019, they arrested Joiner for second-degree murder at the auto dealership where he worked.
“I wanted to see in his eyes to see if there was any indication of remorse, but there wasn’t any,” Langton told producers.
Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs noted that the Obando case was the third time the department had worked with “Cold Justice” — and that the first two resulted in arrests and convictions.
Breneman said that she would be happy to work with the team again, too.
“Whatever resources we can bring in … That’s what I want to do,” she said. “If they like any of our other cases, I’m all for it.”
Joiner pleaded not guilty to Obando’s murder, according to the News-Press. His next court appearance is a case management conference scheduled for April 8, according to court records.
Don’t miss the rest of this explosive season of “Cold Justice” — Kelly Siegler and her team helped bring about five arrests so far in these cases. “Cold Justice” airs Saturdays at 6/5c on Oxygen.
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