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Family and friends held an emotional vigil for 33-year-old Erika Verdecia in Davie at the very same spot where her body was recovered just over a week ago near Orange Drive.
“The balloons mean fly high Erika,” Verdecia’s mother, Carmen Verdecia said.
Verdecia leaves behind a six-year-old daughter.
Eric Pierson, 54, was arrested Saturday on a first-degree murder charge just hours after Erika Verdecia’s body was found.
Sunrise police said Pierson confessed to stabbing the single mother four times with a screwdriver on Sept. 25.
He is being held without bond.
The victim’s mother, Carmen Verdecia, said that at first police would not report her missing.
“Three, four, five, six days the police telling me she could be anywhere. No, this is not what my daughter would do,” Carmen said.
It wasn’t until the family did their own investigative work and discovered that Verdecia had been seen with Pierson that they said police finally reported her missing.
“How is the justice system OK?” The police didn’t want to report her missing but they have a killer in the street,” Carmen Verdecia said.
Pierson had been released from prison in September 2020 after serving 27 years of a 40-year sentence for the 1993 beating and strangulation murder of 17-year-old Kristina Whitaker, whose death helped galvanize a push for longer prison sentences. He had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.
Florida did away with parole after the slaying, requiring convicts to serve at least 85% of their sentences. But the change could not be applied retroactively and Pierson was still eligible, leading to last year’s release.
In 1985, Pierson had broken into a home and slit a woman’s throat. He served four years of an 18-year sentence for first-degree attempted murder before being paroled.
Verdecia’s family had reported her missing Sept. 27, three days after she left home and never returned. Her mother reached out to her friends on social media and one said she had seen Verdecia with a “grimy” man at a sandwich shop who told her his name was Eric Pierson.
Carmen Verdecia searched his name on the internet and was horrified to see newspaper stories about his earlier murder and attack.
“I flipped out,” she said. “I told (police) my daughter was seen with a killer. And then they started looking for her. But it was too late.”
Sunrise police said in court documents they had a brief interaction with Pierson and Verdecia during a Sept. 25 traffic stop. Pierson told detectives that was the day he killed her.
She was a passenger in Pierson’s truck and did not appear to be in distress, police said.
When police contacted Pierson again on Oct. 4, he told investigators that Verdecia had walked away when he stopped to get gas shortly after the traffic stop. He said he never saw her again. But surveillance video shows the pair had been at the gas station before the traffic stop, police said.
Police say they questioned Pierson again on Friday. They say he let them search his truck and they found blood inside. His girlfriend later Friday called police to say he would stare at the canal behind her home and say, “Damn that b—- stinks.”
She told police he had also said, “If they don’t find a body, they don’t have a case.”
Her body was found hours later.