Detroit — A former Buffalo Bills linebacker was deep in debt, double-crossing drug dealers and hunted by killers before being executed on Detroit’s west side, according to federal prosecutors.
Federal court records, search warrant affidavits, security camera footage and witness interviews shed light on the violent end to the life of Detroit native Robert Eddins, 28, a former NFL player killed during a 2016 double homicide in an alleged conspiracy involving drug dealers, hitmen and an intimate betrayal.
New details about the homicides are emerging as defendants charged with killing Eddins fight to suppress evidence collected during a sprawling investigation, including cellphone data that retraced the accused killers’ steps before and after the homicide. The fight is headed by a criminal defense lawyer who successfully convinced the U.S. Supreme Court to protect digital privacy rights two years ago and is using that case law to try to free the accused killers.
The federal case dates to Dec. 19, 2016. Eddins was at his home on Pierson Street on Detroit’s west side, talking with friend Japhlet Williams when a familiar visitor arrived. Eddins delivered an ominous premonition.
“If I don’t come back to the phone,” Williams recalled Eddins saying, “you know what’s up.”
At the time of the phone call, Eddins was far from the football spotlight.
Eddins played at Crockett High School and ranked among the state’s top 30 players before arriving at Ball State University in 2006. He was a four-year letterman, tied for sixth on Ball State’s all-time career sacks list and was named to the 2010 All-MAC Second Team.
Eddins went undrafted in 2011 and signed as a free agent with the Buffalo Bills. He played in one regular-season game before signing with the Saskatchewan Roughriders of the Canadian Football League. Injuries led to him being released in June 2014, marking the end of his football career.
Two years later, Eddins was an interstate drug dealer, selling cocaine in Birmingham, Ala., and Detroit, according to the criminal case.
Eddins picked up cocaine shipments in Dallas, Texas, the Houston area and Alabama from accused Texas dealer Mariano Lozoya Garcia, 50, of Brownsville, prosecutors said.
Eddins and best friend Michael Griffin would buy cocaine on consignment for $34,000 per kilogram, prosecutors wrote while fighting defense attempts to suppress evidence seized during the investigation.
The former football player and Griffin received as much as 6 kilograms every two weeks, prosecutors said.
“Griffin would sell his portion of the cocaine in Birmingham. Eddins … would sell cocaine both in Birmingham and Detroit,” prosecutors wrote. “This arrangement worked well until November 2016.”
Eddins and Griffin, 37, of Birmingham, Ala., were physically similar but an unlikely pair.
In 2006, while the 6-foot-3, 242-pound Eddins was being redshirted at Ball State, Griffin, an inch taller and 50 pounds heavier, was starting a 10-year sentence in federal prison after being convicted in a cocaine and gun case.
By fall 2016, Garcia fronted the pair 10 kilograms, their largest supply of cocaine during the alleged conspiracy, according to the government.
Eddins hauled some of the cocaine to Detroit, prosecutors said. He and Griffin agreed to regroup in Houston in mid-November and pay for the cocaine.
“Around the time of the scheduled meeting, as Eddins was headed to Texas, text exchanges between Eddins and Garcia, make it is clear that Eddins did not have the full amount that he owed Garcia,” prosecutors wrote.
The debt put stress on the friendship between Eddins and Griffin, prosecutors alleged.
“Cuzz this is bad and you no (sic) it now he putting all this on me,” Griffin wrote.
“Man, f— him…,” Eddins texted.
Griffin accused Eddins of endangering his livelihood.
“… I can’t believe you would mess up the only way I got to keep my family up man…,” Griffin wrote.
Around Thanksgiving, Garcia insulted and threatened Eddins, according to texts cited by the government.
“Stop being a coward and man up and admit you are nothing but a dreamer,” Garcia wrote. “Get all my $ together.”
Griffin ultimately paid his and Eddins’ share in full to appease his cocaine supplier, prosecutors said.
The day after Thanksgiving 2016, Eddins shut off his phone and stopped communicating with his friend and the Texas man.
Days later, Griffin, Garcia and a third man, Mississippi resident Dennis Epps, met in Texas before the start of a manhunt.
Griffin started texting friends asking if they’d had contact with Eddins, according to the government.
On Dec. 18, the hunt moved to Detroit as Griffin and Epps traveled from Alabama, prosecutors said. In his phone, Griffin had a list of 11 addresses linked to Eddins.
After arriving in Detroit, a family friend wired $3,000 to Griffin for “travel expenses” for a “bounty hunter,” prosecutors said.
On Dec. 19, Griffin’s cellphone pinged off a tower four blocks north of Eddins’ home on the 20300 block of Pierson Street on the city’s northwest side, prosecutors said.
The white brick bungalow near Eight Mile and Evergreen was among the addresses stored on Griffin’s phone, prosecutors said.
The hunt was over. Eddins had been found.
Eddins was on the phone with Williams at the time and said Griffin had just arrived at the Pierson Street house.
That night, cellphone records showed Eddins and Griffin traveled to a Walmart in Livonia.
Security footage showed them at the customer service area picking up a $200 wire transfer, according to prosecutors.
The duo, along with Epps and a fourth person, returned to Eddins’ home. Cell tower records show Griffin and Epps stayed on the block until after 1 a.m. on Dec. 20, prosecutors said.
While at the home, Griffin exchanged text messages with Garcia and a flurry of long phone calls, according to prosecutors.
“So he’s laughing at us still,” Garcia wrote in one text.
“Just chill dude I got him comfortable,” Griffin wrote. “I will not let him out my sight.”
Griffin and Epps appear to have left the home separately early Dec. 20 before the two drove back to Alabama, prosecutors wrote.
That night, Eddins’ father visited the Pierson Street home after not hearing from his son.
“Inside, he found the house unlocked, no signs of forced entry, with music and TV blaring and the strong smell of gas from the oven in the kitchen,” prosecutors wrote. “The three bedrooms on the main floor had been ransacked.”
In the basement, he found the bodies of his son and a second man, Ricardo “Slick” McFarlin, 32. Both men suffered multiple gunshots.
Detroit police investigators arrived and found eight 9 mm shell casings. An investigation showed McFarlin, a father and convicted member of the notorious Black Mafia Family drug ring, was shot seven times and suffered defensive wounds to his wrists.
“There were also contusions on his right hand and wrist consistent with being restrained,” prosecutors wrote.
Eddins, meanwhile, was shot three times in the head.
Tests showed the bullets were fired from two guns and investigators believe pillows were used to dampen the sound, according to the government.
After Eddins was killed, Griffin mourned his best friend by posting a photo of them on Facebook.
“Man I can’t take this I love u lil Cuzz,” Griffin wrote.
Williams, who was on the phone with Eddins moments before the shooting, told investigators that his friend and Griffin had a dispute involving drugs and money.
His information helped troopers obtain permission to search cellphone records, including GPS data spanning more than 180 days.
The “threadbare” search warrant application lacked probable cause to seize the records, Griffin’s lawyer, Harold Gurewitz, wrote while trying to suppress the data. That request is pending in front of U.S. District Judge Terrence Berg ahead of a Dec. 1 trial in federal court in Detroit.
“All evidence obtained pursuant to the warrant should be suppressed because the application on which the warrant is based is supported by a factually deficient affidavit that relies on uncorroborated and unreliable allegations of an informant,” Gurewitz and co-counsel Michael Sheehan wrote.
Investigators caught up to Griffin and Epps almost two weeks after the bodies were found.
On Jan. 4, 2017, a Louisiana State Police trooper pulled them over in a white Dodge Charger near New Orleans after noticing the muscle car traveling slower than other vehicles and crossing lanes of traffic.
Investigators recovered four cellphones from Griffin and Epps during the traffic stop. Authorities say they also found a kilo-sized brick of suspected heroin and counterfeit money in the rental car. One week after the traffic stop, an employee with the rental car company called investigators after finding a 9 mm handgun under the driver’s seat.
Justice Department officials recently decided against seeking the death penalty against Griffin, Epps and Garcia.
Griffin and Epps, meanwhile, are challenging the traffic stop. Their lawyers argue the Louisiana State Police trooper lacked probable cause to initiate the traffic stop and have asked the judge to suppress evidence found during the search.
That evidence includes ski masks and a puffy 2XL gray jacket. The jacket appears identical to one Eddins was seen wearing on the Walmart security footage hours before his death.
“It was the only article of clothing seen in the video that Eddins did not have on his body when discovered that next evening by his father,” prosecutors wrote.
“In fact, when Eddins’ father later saw the photograph, he immediately recognized it as the jacket he bought for his son. A jacket he has not seen since his son was murdered.”