Former UF football star pleads not guilty to girlfriend’s murder as new details describe “jealous” relationship

Reporter: Sara Girard
Published: Updated:

A former football star, once a darling of the 2006 National Champion Florida Gators, is back in the spotlight Monday. But this time he stands accused of murdering the mother of his children.

Tony “Earl” Joiner’s attorney entered a not guilty plea in a Lee County courtroom for the 2016 murder of his girlfriend Heyzel Obando. It took investigators more than three years and the help of Oxygen TV show “Cold Justice” to make an arrest, even though police made Joiner a person of interest from day one.

WINK News spent weeks reviewing the same information available to the show, and almost all of the evidence has been available for years. Begging the question: what took so long?

In a never-before-heard, desperate 911 call on Valentine’s Day 2016, Joiner can be heard pleading for emergency services to send an ambulance to his home at Maple Crest Apartments in Fort Myers. He told the dispatcher he came home and found his 26-year-old girlfriend “just sitting there,” shot dead on the floor, while their daughters sat in the car outside.

“She’s got blood everywhere,” Joiner said.

Video from the scene that night shows as help arrived, Joiner sat silently distraught, huddled in a blanket. Fort Myers Police had their suspicions.

Their case files paint a picture of a relationship fraught with jealousy, physical abuse, and fear that Joiner would spend the family’s hard-earned money at strip clubs.

But maybe the most astounding piece of evidence came from the mouth of Joiner’s 3-year-old daughter. One document shows she told the child protection team: “poppy shooted mommy” and “mommy blood.” That happened just days after her mother died. Still the case went cold, and police didn’t make an arrest until this year and it took the help of a TV show.

“This just needed a little bit extra push to get it to the point where we believed the state attorney’s office would file an arrest warrant,” said Fort Myers Police Sgt. Lisa Breneman in a press conference following Joiner’s arrest.

MORE: ‘Cold Justice’ team brings closure to victim’s family post-production

WINK News fought for a month to get the same case information that “Cold Justice” reviewed.

“To have one person to focus solely on this forensic information and to put it together for us,” Breneman said, “was something that we normally don’t have the luxury of.”

The week the show came to Fort Myers, detectives say they interviewed more than 50 witnesses, new and old, some remembered new things. And Joiner finally sat down with police to give his side of the story.

Why wasn’t what they had in 2016 enough? WINK News wanted to ask that question, but the department declined our request for an interview.

“They run out of leads,” said Florida Gulf Coast University Criminal Justice Expert Dr. Dave Thomas.

He said sometimes investigations just need fresh eyes.

“I would think that they were closer to solving this,” Thomas said, “they just didn’t have all of those pieces.”

For example, when the department assigned new detectives to the case earlier this year, they did discover a photo of a gun on Obando’s cell phone. It led them to a man who admitted to selling Joiner a gun (the one possibly used in the murder).

Still, police say it was “Cold Justice’s” help and TV show budget that made the difference.

“‘Cold Justice’ hired DNA labs and they paid for an extensive amount of additional DNA testing in this case,” Breneman said.

So Joiner, once a shining star on the football field, now sits sidelined in a jail cell facing second degree murder charges, while we’re left wondering why he walked free for three years.

WINK News reached out to Joiner’s lawyer and he said they have no comment. Joiner’s bond hearing is set for next Monday, June 22 and he is due back in court in September.

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