DNA misfire: Orange deputies arrested wrong man for stabbing death of Orlando woman

The DNA match convinced them. Investigators said the genetic material they found on the knife that killed Orlando resident Maria Paulino was identical to that on a discarded tea bag police picked out of Yesnin Bonilla Iscoa’s trash.

Bonilla Iscoa, 30, was arrested and spent more than a month in jail. But he was the wrong guy, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office announced Monday.

Investigators now say the DNA evidence points instead to Bonilla Iscoa’s roommate, Luis Narvaez, in the May 10 killing of 52-year-old Paulino, who was found stabbed 16 times inside her car. Narvaez, 28, was booked into the Orange County Jail last month where he awaits trial for second-degree murder.

Bonilla Iscoa’s charges have been dropped.

“It illustrates why we always say that an arrest in a homicide case is not the end. Sometimes, it’s just the beginning,” a Sheriff’s Office spokesperson said in a press release.

Investigators initially suspected Bonilla Iscoa of Paulino’s death because call records on her phone showed the last calls she made and received were to Bonilla Iscoa’s cellphone. Records of cell towers “pings” placed his phone near the area around the time she was killed, according to an affidavit detailing his arrest.

Detectives tracked Bonilla Iscoa to Lubbock, Texas, in November, and obtained his DNA from the tea bag. They determined the handle of the murder weapon contained his DNA, Paulino’s DNA and that of an unidentified third person, and arrested Bonilla Iscoa.

In interviews with law enforcement, Bonilla Iscoa acknowledged he and his roommates sometimes bought drugs from Paulino. But he maintained his innocence, telling investigators he was sleeping the night of the murder when Narvaez asked to borrow his phone so he could call Paulino and buy cocaine, an affidavit said.

He said he then went back to sleep. But later, when Bonilla Iscoa and his other roommates talked to Narvaez about getting more cocaine from Paulino, he told them Paulino “was no longer available” as a drug supplier because he had killed her, an affidavit said.

Asked by detectives why his DNA might have been on the knife, Bonilla Iscoa said it was likely a kitchen knife taken from their home.

Bonilla Iscoa’s other roommates corroborated his version of events, and investigators noted that the blood and fingerprints found in Paulino’s car were not a match for Bonilla Iscoa.

It wasn’t until Jan. 22 when they concluded that forensic evidence pointed to Narvaez. Two weeks earlier, Narvaez’s fingerprints and DNA were obtained when a car he had taken from one of his roommates was found abandoned near Pensacola.

Narvaez was located in Baker County, where he had been arrested on immigration-related charges. He initially claimed he had been joking when he claimed to have killed Paulino. But confronted with the DNA evidence, Narvaez confessed, the sheriff’s press release said.

However, according to an affidavit, while Narvaez’s DNA was matched to blood found on the front seat, the steering wheel and the driver’s side door of Paulino’s car, the comparison of his DNA to the unknown material on the knife handle was “inconclusive.”

Narvaez entered a not guilty plea on March 5.