A former Florida college football player has reached a plea deal in the case of the 2016 shooting death of his girlfriend, with whom he shared two daughters — one of whom may have witnessed her mother’s murder.
Earl Antonio Joiner, 37, has pleaded guilty in connection with the death of Heyzel Obando, 26, who police say died after being shot sometime between Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, 2016. Cops said it was Joiner who shot and killed Obando, the mother of his two younger daughters, in their Fort Myers apartment. Although he had a history of alleged abuse against Obando, Joiner wasn’t arrested until 2019.
Joiner was a former captain and safety for the University of Florida football team, the Florida Gators, from 2004 to 2007, playing under head coach Urban Meyer and serving as a team captain his senior year. As a senior, Joiner was teammates with future Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who himself was convicted in one murder and acquitted in another.
Lee County records show that Joiner is scheduled for a June 5 hearing at 1:00 p.m., although the charge to which Joiner is pleading was not immediately clear. Samantha Syoen, Communications Director at Office of the State Attorney in the 20th Judicial Circuit, confirmed the existence of a plea agreement to Law&Crime, but she cautioned that the agreement still has to get in front of a judge and that the defendant still has to formally accept it in court.
Joiner’s attorney, Donna Peterson, declined to comment to Law&Crime, citing the ongoing case.
According to a probable cause affidavit, Joiner called 911 on Feb. 14, 2016, claiming to have found Obando covered in blood. Police officers found Joiner appearing to perform CPR on Obando, but said that it his efforts were “futile because [Obando] was very obviously dead and had been dead for quite some time.” One officer described Joiner’s behavior at the scene to be “bizarre and not what he would have expected from a person who had just discovered a deceased loved one,” according to the affidavit. The officer also described Joiner as “cold and emotionless” and said he was “completely silent” as he sat in a patrol car for several hours while the crime scene was being investigated.
“Joiner was sitting on the curb and did not appear to be distressed or emotional about [Obando’s] death, nor was he attempting to console his children,” the affidavit says.
He didn’t ask any questions during this about what happened to Obando, the affidavit says. One witness who spoke with investigators said that Joiner stayed with him after Obando’s death but that he “did not seem very upset” about it, nor did he attend her funeral. The affidavit later notes that Joiner said he didn’t go to the funeral because he wasn’t told about it.
Another officer at the scene noted that Joiner had left his daughters — Obando’s children — in a running car in a parking lot. According to the affidavit, Joiner had told officers that he left the girls in the car because he intended to get Obando’s help in carrying them into the apartment, as the youngest one was asleep.
One expert who interviewed the girls after their mother’s death reported that her “impression was that [redacted] may have witnessed her mother’s murder.”
“Poppy shooted mommy,” one of the young girls said to the pediatric nurse who examined her. “Mommy blood.”
“She was asked if her mommy talked or said any words after that,” the affidavit says. “She said ‘No.'”
Despite investigators’ apparent suspicions of Joiner’s involvement, Obando’s death went unsolved for three years and was considered a cold case. A break in the case appears to have come in March 2019 when, according to the affidavit, a cold case investigator “discovered photographs on [redacted] cellular phone records of an unknown male holding a gun.” The picture was taken from outside the passenger side of a vehicle and the serial number was visible. Detectives traced that gun — a 9mm semi-automatic handgun — to its original owner, who told police that he purchased it in October of 2015 and sold it to Joiner around a year later, without ever having used it.
That witness also told police that he was the one who took the picture of the “unknown male,” who he identified as Joiner, and confirmed that he had texted that picture to Joiner.
According to the affidavit, investigators had found one spent cartridge casing of a 9mm bullet in the northeast corner of the apartment bedroom where Obando was killed, and one live round of the same ammunition in a closed nightstand drawer next to the bed.
Following Joiner’s arrest, he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder with a firearm.
The affidavit shows two prior domestic violence cases against Joiner in 2013. In the first instance, he allegedly bloodied Obando at a mall during an argument about his ex-girlfriend calling him. Later that year, the day after Christmas, he allegedly waved a bat in a poking-type manner in front of her, striking her in the forehead with it and causing a large lump and swelling.
Those who knew the couple told investigators the two had a contentious relationship, marked by Joiner’s violent temper.
“One day, I’m going to kill you,” he allegedly said in one instance, according to the affidavit.
Another witness, a neighbor who knew both Obando and Joiner, said that Obando once described an incident where Joiner had grabbed her by the throat and slammed her against the wall.
“I told my mom that if something ever happens to me, it will be him [Joiner],” the witness recalls Obando saying, according to the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, Joiner had denied ever striking Obando.
Obando’s mother, Isabel Martinez, was granted permanent custody of Obando and Joiner’s two daughters in 2017.
Read the probable cause affidavit for Joiner’s arrest, below.
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story identified the victim as Joiner’s wife. She was his live-in girlfriend.
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