Warrant: Detectives were meticulous in putting together 7-Eleven homicide case

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PUNTA GORDA, Fla. – Detectives quickly identified Michael James Russo as a suspect, then meticulously put together their case against him in the city’s first homicide in more than six years.

Russo, 28, of 2105 Deborah Drive, was arrested at his home Tuesday. He faces second-degree murder and first-degree arson charges in the death of Kyle Farishian, who was found shot to death inside a burning 7-Eleven in Nov. 2015.

WATCH the SWAT takedown of Michael James Russo.

Russo was given no bond during his first court appearance Wednesday morning. He is expected to have a bond hearing Thursday morning.

“We’re glad he’s off the street and hope everyone can rest safe here in town and feel a little better about everything and we’re just counting on the justice system to do its thing,” said J.J. McCoy, Farishian’s stepdad.

The arrest comes less than 24 hours before Thomas Lewis was to be sworn in as the city’s next police chief.

“This crime devastated a family and shocked our community,” he said during a Tuesday night press conference. “Although this arrest will not bring Kyle back, we hope that the family can now begin the healing process.”

Final moments

Farishian was working alone inside the 7-Eleven at about 3:11 a.m. when someone walked into the store at Bal Harbor Boulevard and Aqui Esta Drive, according to an arrest warrant.

Farishian walked around the store twice before he found the person who walked in.

“The suspect was carrying a dark colored, long barreled revolver in his right hand which was pointed at Kyle Farisian’s head,” said the warrant, citing security video from inside the store. “The suspect was also carrying in his left hand a red, two handled, five gallon, plastic gasoline can with a yellow cap on the spout.”

The suspect fired one shot. Farishian fell to the floor.

“Kyle Farishian was lying motionless on his back when the suspect walked towards him and fired a second round into his body,” the warrant said.

The suspect then poured an accelerant over Farishian’s body, then onto the register.

He picked up a cigarette lighter and attempted to start a fire.

It didn’t work.

He picked up a second lighter.

It didn’t work.

The third lighter worked.

“The suspect turned and ran out of the left door carrying the three lighters, latex glove from the right hand, red gas can, yellow spout cap and revolver while disappearing from sight running west,” the warrant said.

The suspect did not say one word to Farishian, the warrant said.

“Along with the fact there was no demand for money or property prior to the shots being fired, there also was no attempt to take money or property after Kyle Farishian was incapacitated,” the document said.

Putting the pieces together

In interviews with detectives, Farishian’s father and Lori Englert, a co-worker, mentioned an encounter with a customer three months prior.

“Lori Englert advised she refused to sell Michael J. Russo alcohol and he became belligerent to the point that police were called,” the warrant said. “She further advised Michael J. Russo was eventually trespassed from the store because of it.”

Farishian was in training with Englert during the disturbance, the document said.

Russo filed a complaint against Englert, then filed a second one against store manager Victoria Cross for not reviewing the first complaint, the warrant said.

Russo obtained Cross’ cell phone, then called her four times between Sept. 15-18, 2015.

“She stated he was extremely abusive and argumentative with her to the point she blocked his number from her phone,” the warrant said.

Investigators believe the previous incident inspired Russo to return to the store.

“At this point in time we believe that the motive was related to two incidents in which he was ultimately trespassed and forbidden to come back to the store,” Lewis, the police chief, said Tuesday night.

Detectives, in researching Russo, came across his father’s 2012 suicide. Multiple guns were found inside the home at the time of his death, along with plastic gasoline cans similar to the one used by the suspect, the warrant said.

Investigators then strengthened their focus on Russo:

  • They observed him “throughly cleaning his vehicle” on Nov. 2, 2015.
  • The next day, detectives found a latex glove similar to the one the suspect wore during a “controlled trash pull” at his home. “It appeared to be damaged by fire or chemical reaction,” the warrant said.
  • Russo matched the “physical characteristics, mannerisms and distance walking gait” of the suspect, according to security video from the 7-Eleven during the altercation.
  • On Nov. 6, 2015, detectives noticed Russo changed his appearance by “cutting his hair and beard very short.”

That same day, a search warrant was served at Russo’s home.

“A dynamic entry, including the use of a percussion grenade was conducted at which time Michael J. Russo appeared at the front door carrying a semi-automatic pistol,” the warrant said.

After complying, Russo told authorities about four guns placed throughout the home. Detectives seized the guns, along with a box of latex gloves, eight plastic gas cans, his Mazda 6 and other items.

Witnesses come forward

After detectives released photographs of the suspect on Nov. 7, 2015, a woman told detectives she saw Russo cutting his yard on Halloween wearing what appeared to be the same pants as the suspect.

“She thought it was really strange he was wearing long pants to cut the yard in such hot weather,” the warrant said.

The woman added Russo had a walk similar to the suspect in the security video, the warrant said.

Detectives then received more information from witnesses and documents, including:

  • That it was “highly unusual” for Russo to have a clean vehicle or cut his hair.
  • That he talked to others about wanting to know what it felt like to kill someone.
  • That he complained about bad service at the 7-Eleven.
  • That he previously threatened to kill a man.
  • That he owned a gun similar to the one the suspect used.
  • That he has a history of violence, including attacking his father with a knife and hatchet.
  • That he stayed at two hotels following the killing. A hotel worker said his vehicle was packed as if he was moving.
  • Russo was cited for having a BB gun and paintball guns on the campus of Florida Gulf Coast University in 2007.

Russo was arrested based on the latex glove found in his trash and the similarities between Russo and the suspect and items used in the 7-Eleven video, the warrant said.

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