May 14, 2018 | By Matthew Farina
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Michael Cohen Jr. loved his family.
His father, Michael Cohen Sr., remembers this vividly. At an Arlington Country Day School first-grade piano recital, the elder Cohen said his only son stood on stage and gave an unexpected introduction.
“Before sitting down to play his piece,” the retired U.S. Navy veteran recalls, “Michael turned to the crowd and said, ‘My name’s Michael Cohen Jr. and I’m the handsome son of Mr. and Mrs. Cohen.’”
He grinned widely as he proudly acknowledged his father and mother in attendance. They were his everything.
Michael’s sister, Rezelle Cohen-Carbert, has similar memories of her older brother’s unwavering affection and humor. She says when Michael was a teenager, he offered to take their parents’ car for a spin once the duo had finished washing it.
“I told Michael I didn’t know how to drive so he said he would teach me,” the younger Cohen reminisced. “My feet couldn’t reach the pedals so he let me sit in his lap as we drove around the block. I remember my mother yelling at us when we pulled back into the driveway. Michael just laughed.”
For Cohen-Carbert and Cohen Sr. these fleeting memories are all that remain of the Duval County native.
On April 18, 2001, neighbors in the 1600 block of West 26th Street heard several gunshots. A Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office patrol unit responded to the area but did not find anything.
Fewer than 24 hours later, homicide investigators returned to the location, and this time, they found a body.
Michael Cohen Jr., 22, lay dead on a dirt driveway. An autopsy revealed multiple gunshot wounds — two to his head and one to his chest.
According to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit employee, R. Starling, police were unable to identify a suspect because of a lack of evidence.
“There were no witnesses,” Starling said. “The only evidence found at the scene were five 9-millimeter casings and one unknown projectile.”
It had been only a year since Cohen was released from prison for a 1999 burglary.
Although there were few initial leads, the case was re-opened for review in 2005 after an individual came forward with information. Starling says an individual called JSO’s homicide office and gave investigators a name.
Detectives made contact with the named individual, a family member of the victim, who was already incarcerated at Montgomery Correctional Center in Duval County for unrelated charges. That individual invoked his right to remain silent, refusing an interview.
According to a JSO police report, Michael and his family member may have had a dispute over unknown matters.
When asked about the possible conflict between the two men, Cohen-Carbert said rumors were circulating at the time, but they were never confirmed.
“My brother [and this family member] got into an argument once Michael was released from jail,” she said. “Some people said Michael broke into his house, but that was just talk.”
Michael’s father said he heard similar stories, but like JSO and his daughter, he was unable to verify the speculation.
Cohen Sr. called the family member directly to ask about what happened. He was told there was never a dispute.
Michael had been released from Catherine Community Division Prison shortly before his murder on charges for violating probation.
Cohen-Carbert said her older brother struggled to cope with his father’s deployment and his mother’s drug addiction. Yet even behind bars, she knew he had her best interest in mind.
“Michael had that brotherly protection and love when he was in jail,” Cohen-Carbert said. “He would ask me what guys I was dating and who I was seeing. He always wanted to make sure I was doing alright.”
On March 11, 2012, detectives updated the case notes. A grant had allowed for DNA processing at Florida Department of Law Enforcement facilities. Lab specialists were looking for fingerprints on the 9-mm casings, but again, the investigation reached a standstill.
Today — almost 17 years after his murder — Michael Cohen Jr.’s family still celebrates the life of their beloved son and brother.
“I remember seeing Michael after he had gotten out of prison, a few days before his murder,” Rezelle Cohen-Carbert said. “He was walking down the street and it looked like he was glowing. He looked like an angel almost.”
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