PEMBROKE PINES — - One week after being released from jail for stealing his adoptive mother's jewelry, 21-year-old Gerard Belmonte was ordered held without bond Thursday, charged with her murder.
Police still have not determined what exactly led the young man to allegedly kill Natalie Belmonte in their Pasadena Estates home and dump her body in a nearby marsh.
The slaying is all the more tragic because of their special bond: in 2000 in Broward Circuit Court, Natalie formally adopted Gerard, then only 10, from her native Guyana. She rescued the boy after his father — Natalie's uncle — had died.
More recently, Natalie Belmonte had intervened to free him from the clutches of the judicial system for pawning $20,000 worth of her jewelry.
"She'd do anything for him," said Aquila Rodgers, who worked with Natalie at a Weston real estate office. "She loved him as if he were her own."
And Gerard Belmonte, or Gerry as he was known, in turn, cherished her, Rodgers said. "She was his lifeline."
"We don't know what happened," Rodgers said. "He must have snapped."
In a court appearance Thursday, Gerard Belmonte hung his head and stared at the floor as Judge John Hurley read the gruesome details of the killing and the preliminary evidence against him, then ordered that he be held without bond. A public defender told the judge Belmonte is on a suicide watch at the Broward County Main Jail.
Belmonte admittedly was the last person to see his mother alive.
On Sunday he reported her missing from their home.
Mother and son had attended a friend's graduation party together in Hialeah and returned home just past 2:30 that morning, authorities say.
Gerard Belmonte told police he was drunk, went to bed and awoke at about 11 a.m. to find his mother missing — her car keys, purse and cellphone still at home. He told authorities he never left the house all morning.
But a neighbor's surveillance cameras show a man matching Gerard Belmonte's description, at about 5 a.m., repositioning Natalie Belmonte's red Lexus so the trunk is angled toward the front door. The individual is then seen dragging a large object — about the size of an adult — to the car and then putting it in the trunk, and driving off, according to police.
Investigators found blood in the trunk and in the home, pointing to "a violent struggle," according to the police affidavit.
The body of 43-year-old Natalie Belmonte was found Wednesday in a swampy area near the 1600 block of Northwest 196th Avenue. She had suffered serious injuries to the head.
In a trash bin at a nearby shopping center, police found garbage bags containing men's clothing, towels, bedding and pillows resembling items from the Belmonte home. DNA indicated that the clothes had Natalie Belmonte's blood on them, according to police.
Natalie Belmonte was a divorced mother of three who "looked like a movie star," said Marvin Rosengarten, the Lauderhill attorney who handled her 2008 divorce from Andre Belmonte, also of Pembroke Pines.
In addition to Gerard Belmonte, she had two natural children: another son, 17, and daughter, 20, with Andre Belmonte.
Gerard Belmonte, adopted only by Natalie, wasn't claimed as a dependent in the divorce, as her other children were, because he legally wasn't considered a child of the marriage, Rosengarten said.
Weighing nearly 200 pounds, Gerard Belmonte, who also went by the last name Lopes, apparently had difficulty finding work and had several run-ins with the law. His left arm was tattooed with the word "trust" and his right arm: "no one."
In 2008, when he was 17, Natalie Belmonte had him arrested for stealing her jewelry. He provided a taped confession to authorities, according to court records.
A police affidavit in the case describes Gerard Belmonte's attitude as "unconcerned," and his mother's reaction as "upset."
The case is still active but Belmonte thought it was resolved and was surprised within recent months, when filling out immigration paperwork, to learn there was a warrant for his arrest in the theft, according to Bob Wills, chief assistant public defender.
In early June of this year, Belmonte was arrested and initially held without bond on the charge. He was jailed for a month.
"The mother was doing everything she could to help him and have this case go away," Wills said.
On July 13, a judge set Belmonte's bond at $1,000 after his mother testified that "she sought and wanted to drop the charges, that her son had gotten his life together over the past three years," Wills said.
Natalie Belmonte posted her son's bond, and he was freed the next day — only three days before she disappeared.
Her statements in court "would certainly cast some doubt that this case was the motive for the murder," Wills said. "They had a great relationship."
Belmonte, however, remained concerned about her son, who had had other legal problems too, including a 2009 arrest for allegedly breaking and entering a home while the owners were asleep.
Some neighbors, meanwhile, were also concerned. The surveillance system that filmed the man driving Natalie Belmonte's car may have been installed because of her son, neighbor Lindon Ramsey told WFOR-Ch. 4
"People ended up installing cameras the block over and right across the street," Ramsey told the station. "Things would happen, and we would wonder. Gerry would somehow be involved once we got down to the bottom of it."
Researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.
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A vigil for Natalie Belmonte is planned for 7 to 8 p.m. Friday, at Pines Boulevard and Southwest 196th Avenue in Pembroke Pines.
The vigil is organized by a Facebook page called "Bring Candles to Support Natalie Belmonte."
Several Facebook pages dedicated to Belmonte have been created.