Charles Family Receives First Taste of Justice after Waiting 17 Years

Arrest made in 1994 cold case, the shooting of Rene Charles

BY DYLAN SKRILOFF

Daniel Jean Baptiste, 68, Spring Valley, has been charged with second degree murder for a 1994 murder

It was 17 years in waiting but the Spring Valley cops finally got their man, Daniel Jean Baptiste, a 68-year-old Spring Valley resident, was arrested on second degree murder charges last week for the shooting of local community leader Rene Charles in 1994. Authorities said they are still looking for one more man, an accomplice they believe pulled the trigger.

Charles was shot to death in the driveway of his home on North Cole Avenue on the night of October 20, 1994. He was shot twice in the back and once on his right side with a .357-caliber handgun at close range. The bullets hit his heart and lungs and broke a nearby car window.

Rene Charles’ family describe him as a founding pillar of the Spring Valley Haitian community and as a man with a generous heart, even to a fault. He was known for having founded the Rockland Haitian Center in 1970, which aided Haitians with immigration and legal issues, while promoting cultural events. He moved to Spring Valley in 1968 or 1969, family said.

Spring Valley Police Chief Paul Modica said a new witness helped break the case and led to a confession by Mr. Baptiste. He would not indicate the motive that Baptiste had, only saying the crime was motivated by a “personal matter,” and that more information would come out later.

His children Dr. Mildred Charles, Yanel Charles, Yanick Kane, and Najla Mentor came from many hours away to attend a press conference at the Spring Valley Police headquarters on Tuesday. Mildred Charles said it was a “bittersweet moment” that brought “closure.” She said, “First there was shock and then relief. It was an open wound there haunting us.”

The arrest came days before Christmas, making this year’s holiday an especially meaningful one. Mildred Charles said, “It will be one of the most unforgettable Christmases.”

Rene Charles’ son Yanel said the Charles family believes in forgiveness and they offered forgiveness and compassion to Mr. Baptiste and his family. “It takes more to forgive than it does to hate,” Yanel said. The Charles children said they grew up very close with Daniel Jean Baptiste’s children.

All four of Rene Charles’ children have moved out of the area as adults, some said the trauma of his unresolved murder caused them to part ways with Rockland County. Najla lives in the Montreal area, while the other kin have moved to Virginia and Maryland. All have made successful lives thanks largely to the impression their father left on them.

Yanel Charles said there were times he gave up hope, but the family would still call Spring Valley police every two weeks or so and see if anything was new. They were aware the case was still open and the police made them feel their calls were welcome. Chief Modica noted the investigation isn’t done yet. They want the second man. He noted they had considered Mr. Baptiste a prime suspect for many years, but did not have the evidence to arrest him until this past week.
“There is a difference between knowing and proving,” Modica said.
The lead investigator on the case was Spring Valley PD’s Detective Roxanne Lopez. Detective Lopez also works with the US Marshall NY/NJ regional fugitive task force.