State’s Attorney Dennis Ward joined Good Morning Keys on KeysTalk 96.9/102.5FM this morning to talk about what’s been going on in teh county.
With Monroe County residents making sure their voices were heard, it looks like the judicial consolidation between Monroe County and Miami-Dave County is not going to move forward.
Ward said, “Speaker Renner after the Florida Supreme Court came back and indicated to him that based on their committee that they put together, that this thing had no benefit in any way shape or form to the judicial system in the state of Florida. So he took that information and at public outing at I think the Tiger Bay Club around Jacksonville somewhere, made a statement that he was not going to pursue this any further. So that hopefully puts the nail in the coffin on that issue.”
Ultimately this was spurred on by the governor.
Ward said, “Unquestionably. This was one of his, I guess, issues that he wanted to portray to the people of the United States of America that he takes action against rogue prosecutors, even though this legislation would have been devastating to the people in the vast majority of the judicial circuits in the state of Florida. There was no interest in how it impacted on the citizens of the state of Florida, just how it helped his endeavors to become the president of the United States.”
There has also been a hard push for additional attorneys to be hired for certain types of crime.
Ward explained, “Well, after consolidation was a flop, our leaders in Tallahassee decided, well, let’s beef up the statewide prosecutors in Tallahassee, and we’ll send them in to the various circuits, the 20 circuits of the state of Florida, and take the capital crimes away from the state attorney’s for prosecution, take the drug trafficking crimes, and take away gang related crimes, and it wouldn’t be all of them, it’d be just whichever ones they wanted, right? So you’d be working these cases up, and all of a sudden, a statewide prosecutor would come in, and say, we’re gonna take this case, we’re going to take that case. I would imagine we’d be left with the marginal cases, which would require more work and effort and probably responses to motions to dismiss and motions to suppress, and leave them on the front step of the state attorney offices throughout the state of Florida.”
Staffing issues in the state attorney’s office in Monroe County has been slightly overcome — but only slightly.
Ward said, “I’m driving from my home in Tavernier to my office in Marathon, which I do three or four times a week, to handle misdemeanors down there. There’s four or five potential trial cases on the calendar. I’d like to have a little time to run my office and mingle with my employees a little bit, but I’ve been doing this since May.”
There was a plea deal in one of the murder cases recently.
Ward said, “There’s opposition from one of the victim’s wife. She’s upset, she felt that we misled her. Resolving this issue, we look at a lot of things when we evaluate cases and when we get to a trial posture, there’s certainly whether or not the witnesses are going to be cooperative, whether they’ll present well, whether they’ll show up, whether the evidence is readily available, and the people that are going to testify in regard to that evidence, will testify favorably. There’s more issues when when doing these things, and the prosecutors in that case, felt that some of those factors weren’t going to be reliable. So they threw out the plea offer of 35 years with a minimum mandatory of 25 years in prison before any gain time or any credit time served would be entered. So then the defense agreed to that. The codefendant in case, we prosecuted him about a year ago, and he got life in prison and I think the families of the victims wanted to see the same outcome. But there’s difference in facts, a little bit so the prosecutors in court that day made that decision. I think they made the right decision based on their evaluations. Of course, again, with not having enough prosecutors and the lack of expertise in this field, my chief assistant was in trial on the tree house murder case. So he couldn’t be there to oversee that. I was in court all day that day in Marathon and basically, between the tree house murder and this Stock Island murder, all of my felony prosecutors in Key West were engaged in one or the other murder trials. So, it’s just not having enough prosecutors, it’s having prosecutors that have experience in prosecuting homicides. We have a few of those outstanding. I mean, the COVID era kind of pushed a lot of these cases back and kept him from going to trial and those are still pending up and down the Keys. So we picked up a new prosecutor in Marathon to do the felonies, I didn’t have anybody doing felonies, but I’d have a prosecutor come down from Plantation Key or come up from Key West to do the prosecutions. We get a lot of law enforcement officers that come into our offices and have questions about search warrants and arrest warrants. And I didn’t have anybody here to help them on a full time basis. And the guy I’ve got in there now did 10 years as a prosecutor in Dade County, so he’s knowledgeable, I think, in all these areas. I’m hearing from the law enforcement agency up here in Marathon that it’s very helpful, and they’re ecstatic about the fact that there’s somebody here. These are all factors that come into play when you’re short not only prosecutors, but the expertise of the individual prosecutors.”
Judge Mark Jones has recused himself from the tree house murder case.
Ward said, “He presided over a trial that was more like a circus than anything else. When you have pro se defendants, especially when you have Court TV monitoring everything that takes place in the courtroom and the testimony and the evidence presented, this thing went on for close to three weeks. It’s very trying and very taxing on the court. The only thing I can think of is that at some point, Judge Jones, kind of figured that maybe he couldn’t be fair and impartial and decided to move on, but that creates a problem. Because I think Judge Wilson may have had that conflict. He may have been in the office when this case first started. We’re waiting on the Duvall Street shooter. That case is a month to month whether it’s going to go or not, because the shooter has now indicated that he suffers from some heart issues, and medically is not cleared to go to trial. So we have all that going on.”