Woman Left for Dead: What Happened in Miami Airport Hotel Mystery?


"I had a name," Brennan said. "I was able to go back to the hotel, get their records. And sure enough, there's a Michael Lee Jones there.

"I knew I had my guy," he said.

But unfortunately, in the wake of Katrina, Jones -- like countless others in New Orleans -- had left. By the time of Brennan's investigation in 2006, he was no longer with Centerplate and no one knew where he was.

So Brennan built a master list of the major catering and concession companies in the country. He called them one-by-one looking for a Michael Jones.

Near the bottom of the list was a company called Ovations, based in Tampa, Fla. After a subpoena was issued, the company confirmed that Michael Jones was on its payroll and was managing concessions at a minor league baseball park in Frederick, Md.

Private Detective: 'I'm Going to Be Coming for You'

In spring 2006, Jones was living in a modest apartment in Frederick, Md., 1,000 miles away from the Airport Regency in Miami. Foote was reluctant to collect a DNA sample from a man he believed was "just another lead.

"I'm not quite sold on it yet," he said of his thinking at the time.

But Brennan was certain and convincing.

"I knew he was the guy," Brennan said.

In April 2006, Foote interviewed Jones, who confirmed he was in Miami working at the boat show and staying at the Airport Regency when Inna Budnytska was attacked. But he denied ever having sex with anybody at the hotel and said he would "absolutely" provide a DNA sample.

It would take months for the DNA test to come back and, in the meantime, Brennan made his own trip to Maryland and got Michael Jones to meet him at the ballpark.

"I interviewed him for three days," Brennan said, "and basically he told me, you know, 'I don't know what you're talking about, I don't know who you're talking about.'"

Brennan concluded those sessions with one final message: "I'm going to be back, and I'm going to be coming for you."

When Jones' DNA results proved a match, he was arrested and interrogated.

He maintained his total innocence "right to the very end, the bitter end," Brennan said.

Jones was charged with sexual battery and kidnapping, but the case nearly fell apart before it went to trial.

Brennan believed that after beating and raping Budnytska in his room, Jones stuffed her in his suitcase, walked out of the hotel without attracting the attention of the night manager George Perez, and drove off at 5:31 a.m.

His theory was that Jones dumped the body, turned around, and made it back to the hotel at 6:21 a.m. with time to spare before he was to start work that day at the boat show. He sauntered into the hotel restaurant at 7:59 a.m. and joined his friend at breakfast. Then they headed out to the parking lot and off to work.

But Budnytska refused to accept that theory, instead sticking to her original story that the attack happened in her room. And most of all, she'd originally told police she'd been attacked by a number of Caucasian men, not a lone African American.

Her muddy memory could have been the result of the massive head trauma she sustained, or perhaps Jones slipped her some kind of drug. In any case, she made a flimsy witness.

"So unfortunately, the prosecution has to look at the fact that: Is a jury going to believe this flip-flopping?" Foote said.

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