Santeria, a fugitive killer and a corpse missed by cops. The story ends in prison

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Fifteen years ago, a Miami jeweler named Hugo Quesada stabbed his estranged wife and her stepfather to death in a row over his attempt to become a priest in the Afro-Cuban Santería religion. He then escaped to Argentina, where he lived for years before agents caught up with him.

Quesada has now pleaded guilty to murder, accepting a 40-year prison sentence for the killings of Maritza Quesada and her father, Emilio Xiques, plus the stabbing of Emilio’s wife.

He’s 61 years old. With credit for time already served, he might not get out until his mid-80s, if at all. Quesada remains in a Miami jail, but will soon be transferred to a state prison.

Quesada pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder last week. His attorney declined to comment.

The case always had a tinge of the Miami surreal.

In 2001, Quesada was accused of stealing Rolex watches from a group of fellow jewelers, and he fled to Argentina. Two years later, he suddenly reappeared in Miami.

He later claimed that he had gotten into a dispute with Emilio Xiques and the family, which practices Santería , also called Lukumí by its followers. The religion — which is derived from African faith brought to Cuba and the Americas by slaves and infused with Catholicism — has become more mainstream in recent decades since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled its animal sacrifices are protected.

He said he wanted their help to become a Santería priest, but they refused. He showed up at Maritza Quesada’s Country Walk home, where he suffocated Emilio Xiques and stuffed his body a shed in the yard. Maritza later came home and he strangled her.

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Antlers found hanging in a closet above the body of Maritza Quesada in 2003. Her former husband, Hugo Quesada, pleaded guilty and accepted a 40-year prison term this month.

Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office

Her body was hidden inside a closet, a pair of antlers hanging from a rack directly over her body. Investigators suspected, but never proved, that Quesada placed them there as some sort of symbol or ritual.

The killer then went to the Little Havana home of Maritza’s mother, plunging a knife in the woman’s back while taunting her about killing her daughter. She survived. He later claimed she walked into his knife by accident.

He went on the lam, back to Argentina.

The story mushroomed into embarrassment when Miami-Dade police admitted investigators botched the crime scene.

Maritza’s Quesada body was quickly discovered but investigators failed to find Emilio Xiques’ corpse stuffed in a locked shed in the yard. The badly decomposing body was not found for three days and only because relatives opened the shed.

Hugo Quesada vanished for years. In 2006, Argentine agents found him running a small grocery store in an affluent suburb of Buenos Aires, and he was extradited to South Florida.

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