Arrest in San Carlos Park killing puts face to horrific crime for family

Billy Ray Retherford Jr.

Billy Ray Retherford Jr.

Dustin Jaye

Dustin Jaye

Debra Striano

Debra Striano

Video from NBC-2

— In his nightmares, Russell Myers hears voices calling out to him. Strange people come crashing through a wall, or a window. He wakes up shaking.

One week ago, he left his San Carlos Park home to get gas. When he came back, he found his girlfriend of 14 years dead, killed violently inside the house. He hasn't slept there since.

"It's like going into a war zone," he said.

On Tuesday, family and friends of 55-year-old Debra Striano met at a Fort Myers funeral home and sang "Amazing Grace." That same day, detectives with the Lee County Sheriff's Office said they had found her killers.

"It's bittersweet," said Striano's niece, Lindsey Striano. "Now we can put a face to what happened. I just can't believe it."

Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott said Dustin Dean Jaye, 23, and his uncle, Billy Raye Retherford Jr., 42, entered Striano's home in the Three Oaks community in an attempted burglary on July 24. Then, she was killed.

Myers said he returned from his 20-minute trip to the gas station that night around 10:30 p.m. and found Striano's body inside. A 911 dispatcher told him to try to revive her.

"That wasn't going to happen from what I saw," he said.

Investigators have not yet said how Striano died, but Myers said the couple's border collie, Scruffy, was injured with a knife during the attack. Scott described the home as "a very brutal crime scene."

Jaye was arrested Tuesday and faces charges of felony murder, home invasion and destruction of evidence. Retherford is named on a warrant for felony violation of probation. Charges related to the homicide for him are pending.

Scott said deputies were "hitting the streets hard" looking for Retherford. The sheriff described both men as "career criminals," saying Retherford had been released from prison in January and Jaye, in March.

State records show Retherford has been in Florida prison four times for assorted burglaries and grand thefts. Jaye has been in prison on three occasions for burglary, grand theft and felony battery.

Striano knew neither of the men, Myers said. He knew Jaye through his brother, although he did not know him well.

"They were robbing my house. They didn't know anything about who was in my house," Myers said. "He must really be the lowest of the low to do something like that. It wouldn't have been necessary. You could rob somebody, but you don't have to kill somebody."

If he ever gets a chance, Myers said he would like to ask why it had to happen that way.

"Call me naive, but the actions that this person did were incomprehensible to me because I'm a very nonviolent person," he said. "Why would you ever hurt an innocent human being, and why would you ever go into somebody's house and take it upon yourself to play God?"

Before Striano was killed, Scruffy came to his master's defense. Myers said the border collie was "Debbie and my's pride and joy."

"We never had kids together," he said. "We put all our energy and love into that dog."

Photo with no caption

Striano's few remaining relatives said their goodbyes Monday night at an open-casket wake. Despite what had happened, her niece said she looked just like she always did.

"Even in death, she was still very beautiful," Lindsey Striano said.

Scruffy noticed too, she said. He wasn't a stupid dog. Even though she was no longer alive, he recognized the woman at the visitation.

"He knew what was going on," Striano said. "He knew that mama was in there."

And as she stood in the funeral home, she watched the dog grieve just like she was. In his last gesture of loyalty and love, he tried to get in the casket.

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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