PLANTATION KEY -- Following the resignation earlier this month of Assistant State Attorney Terri Hunnewell, the Upper Keys office will be without its own major felony prosecutor until a new state attorney takes over in January.
State Attorney Dennis Ward, who lost in an August primary to Catherine Vogel, said he plans to leave the decision about Hunnewell's replacement to his successor, either the Democrat Vogel or former Republican State Attorney Mark Kohl.
"For such an important decision, we think that person would like the opportunity to make that decision and we understand that," Manny Madruga, Ward's chief assistant, said last week.
Hunnewell, whose last day was Oct. 5, had headed up major prosecutions at the Plantation Key courthouse since May 2011. In an interview last week, she said her resignation was not related to the transition at the State Attorney's Office. Rather, the move was a personal one, driven by the fact that she and husband Greg McCaulie, a circuit court judge in Jacksonville, have been commuting back and forth throughout her tenure in the Upper Keys.
"It really has nothing to do with politics," Hunnewell said.
Hunnewell's departure shouldn't affect the timing of any major trials, she and Madruga said.
The calendar of Circuit Judge Luis Garcia, who typically presides over Upper Keys felony cases, is dominated in November by the second murder trial of Nicholas Ferro, who is accused of stabbing Key West resident Marques Butler to death at Fantasy Fest in 2009. Ferro's first trial ended with a hung jury in March. But that case is being handled by the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office because Ward recused his office due to a conflict of interest.
Hunnewell said her next trial was scheduled to begin Dec. 17, with the state seeking the conviction of Robert Twist, 60, who is accused of sexually assaulting a 10-year-old girl. If convicted, Twist faces mandatory life in prison.
In the meantime, Madruga said he'll take over Hunnewell's other duties, including filing major cases, approving warrants, assigning less serious cases to other Upper Keys prosecutors and negotiating deals on existing cases that Hunnewell had been handling. Much of that work can be done remotely, he said.
But Madruga also plans to make weekly trips from Key West to Plantation Key to personally interview deputies and major witnesses in new cases before making charging decisions. Some depositions might also require his presence.
Everything will get done that must be done, Madruga said. But he also acknowledged that until Hunnewell is replaced, Upper Keys cases won't be filed as quickly as usual. Other tasks, such as plea negotiations, might also progress more slowly, he said.