Is Monroe County really out of the woods with the judicial consolidation?

Dennis Ward, State’s Attorney for Monroe County, joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in the county.

One of the major issues this year was the consolidation of the judicial circuits of Monroe County and Miami-Dade County.

Ward said, “In my opinion you’re never out of the woods while the legislature is in session. I haven’t heard anything. I know that the committee unanimously came out against this thing and these were hand picked individuals by the chief judge of the Florida Supreme Court. So I would imagine that the Chief Judge sided with the committee he put together and I don’t know what the conversation has been between the Chief Judge and the one of the guys that started this whole thing, Paul Renner, the Speaker of the House, along with the governor. I don’t know where it is right now, but I know they’re putting things together. They’ve had some preliminary meetings. We haven’t heard anything. I asked Representative Mooney to, please let me know if he hears anything, anything, even if somebody’s talking in the men’s room about this, let me know. Because we want to get people activated again, and make sure that we have our voices heard in Tallahassee for the whole legislature. So you can’t trust these people. They have their agendas and it seems to me it doesn’t matter who gets harmed along the way, so long as they achieve their goal of becoming whatever they want to become next. So no, we’re not out of the woods.”

A recent case involved a father of seven formerly from Marathon being arrested for distribution of child pornography.

Ward said, “I think the feds have started the investigation on that. They’ve got one going and I believe we’ve got one going down here as well. Some horrific stories coming out of there. I haven’t verified them, otherwise, I’d tell you what they were. But suffice it to say, we stand behind the Feds when it comes to prosecuting this guy. I mean, they’re probably going to get first shot at him. We’ll see what the ages are, and what the offenses are because now people that sexually assault children are now eligible for the death penalty. I see where one of my colleagues around the Ocala area has come out seeking the death penalty in a child sexual abuse case up there. So that’s the first one under this new law. So we’ll see how see how that progresses. We’re going to keep an eye on that. Maybe we can get with the feds and put together a plan here and then see which one of us or maybe we could collaborate and see if this guy’s eligible. I think he might be so stay tuned.”

There is also a tougher statute for drug dealers whose product results in death.

Ward said, “We had a witness that disappeared. We were unable to get the witness to the transaction between the drug dealer and the decedent. Mr. Fuller, I guess, is the defendant’s name. He agreed to do an eight year prison term. So that is pretty good as far as that’s concerned. Maybe we would have liked to go on a little bit further and gotten some more time on this guy, just because of the fact that he’s out there selling these drugs mixed with fentanyl, and is responsible for the death of one of his purchasers. So he’s the first one we got, I think about three more that we’ve taken to the grand jury over the last year and a half, I think, and we’ve indicted them for first degree murders. I think just a couple of months ago, we indicted one of the big suppliers out of Miami, up in Homestead, for first degree murder. Like the sheriff says it’s a partnership between his officers, his investigators, my office and my prosecutors and the medical lab, and Florida Department of Law Enforcement. It takes all of us put cases like these together. That’s our first one and eight years, that’s not bad. We’d like to get some more and see if we can get stronger cases coming up and more witnesses cooperating in these cases, to help us put these people away for a significant period of time.”

Recently a woman has been indicted for shooting her boyfriend.

Ward said, “About a week and a half ago, we took that case before the grand jury. We presented our evidence to the grand jurors, and they came back with a first degree murder indictment, which means if we have the certain aggravating factors and lack of mitigating factors, we can possibly seek the death penalty in that case. So that is going to take a couple of years before we get it before the court. We’ll see how that progresses. Also the grand jury, we had given them the audit done by the clerk’s office on the flight nurse that was stealing drugs off the aircraft Trauma Star. I’m sure when they come back, we’re going to deal with those. Also I believe that we sent them out the audit on the TDC. So the next time they come in, we’re going to do a lot of talking about audits. The county’s got their audit going, but I’m probably going to look at a few different things and probably see what’s going on there. It’s early, and we wait for the results of what our auditors are doing and then we’ll bring that information to the grand jury and see who they want to talk to and what questions they have.”

A 34 year old woman was arrested by US Marshals in Orlando recently. She was wanted for sexual battery against a person with developmental disabilities in 2022.

Ward said, “That’s the case that is developing between the sheriff’s office and my office, and we’re trying to put together our case to make it as strong as possible and move forward and get justice for the developmentally disabled child.”

The cost of living in the Keys is still a tough issue.

Ward said, “Can’t find any lawyers that can afford to live down here and pay their student loans. So it’s a little difficult. But we’ve got some jail time and some fish cases and lobster cases. We’re starting to get the judges on board with this. Some of them are a little squeamish about putting people in jail for these things, but when their kids grow up, and there’s no fish, no lobster, and the corals are destroyed, they can look back and reflect on their life and know that they were part of the problem and not a part of the solution.”