DNA ties man to 2017 fatal beating of homeless person, West Palm police say in making arrest
By Julius Whigham II, Palm Beach Post,2023-06-09
WEST PALM BEACH — A 43-year-old man is facing a second-degree murder charge in connection to the February 2017 beating death of a homeless man in West Palm Beach.
City police arrested Christopher Michael Hice this week, accusing him in the death of 49-year-old Frank Fini, whose body investigators found behind a store on Belvedere Road just west of Dixie Highway.
Court records list a homeless shelter on 45th Street in West Palm Beach as Hice's last local address. Investigators alleged that he fled to Tennessee after he accused Fini of stealing money and then beating him to death.
Hice refused to appear for a court hearing Wednesday at the Palm Beach County Jail. Circuit Judge Kirk Volker appointed a public defender to represent Hice and ordered that he be held without bail. As a policy, the Palm Beach County Public Defender's Office does not comment on open cases.
Witnesses told investigators man in custody bragged about beating
Fini's body was found on the afternoon of Feb. 9, 2017, behind the Asian Accents store on the 500 block of Belvedere. The Palm Beach County Medical Examiner's Office ruled that he died from blunt-force trauma injuries.
According to the arrest report, one witness told investigators he was sleeping behind a liquor store on the 700 block of Belvedere, near Georgia Avenue, when Hice woke him up and bragged about hitting Fini. The witness said he followed Hice to Fini's location and observed Fini lying flat on his back but still breathing.
A woman told police investigators that Hice bragged about the beating death in the days after the incident. She said she knew Hice from group settings at the homeless shelter where they were staying.
The woman said she took a bus ride to Tennessee with Hice, during which time he spoke about beating another man to death with his bare hands.
DNA linked man in custody to body despite denial of involvement
The woman said she made arrangements to return to Florida upon arriving in Tennessee, out of fear for her safety. In October 2021, city police investigators traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, after obtaining a warrant to collect Hice's DNA. During the trip, the investigators spoke to Hice about the 2017 homicide.
When shown a picture of Fini, Hice told police the face looked familiar but he could not place where he knew the person from, the report said. He told officers that he was living in his car around the time of the incident and had gone into a program in West Palm Beach.
Hice said he fled to Tennessee after money belonging to a person for whom he sold drugs went missing, the report said.
He denied having any involvement in Fini's death and told investigators that the person he was running from may have attacked Fini. DNA evidence collected from Fini's hands and fingernails showed that Hice was a likely contributor, police said.
Julius Whigham II is a criminal justice and public safety reporter for The Palm Beach Post. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @JuliusWhigham. Help support our work: Subscribe today.