The murder rate in the Florida Keys has been historically low with often zero or one occurring annually, as prosecutors and law enforcement happily report every year.
The March 28 conviction of Peter Eric Hedvall in the 2011 Fantasy Fest murder of Jonathan Alvarez put to rest one of five pending murder cases in Monroe County, but four unresolved homicides remain on the docket, including two that could go to trial before the year's end.
Some or all of these cases could be resolved by plea agreement, thereby avoiding trial. The State Attorney's Office does not comment on pre-trial strategies or negotiations with defense lawyers.
There have been no murders in 2014 as of Friday, according to the Monroe County Sheriff's Office and Key West Police.
Murder cases often take more than a year to reach trial and those in the Florida Keys are no different, said State Attorney Catherine Vogel.
"Murder cases are more complex and the discovery process (collection and sharing of evidence among attorneys) generally takes more time to complete," Vogel said. "Defense attorneys are more careful in the investigation due to the lengthy sentences and therefore, the time between the arrest and trial is generally longer in most cases. It's common in my experience that such cases take two or three years to come to trial."
Here are the unresolved murder cases still pending resolution:
• Francisco Leon Marquez, 38, of Stock Island, was indicted on second-degree murder in the Feb. 17, 2012 stabbing death of Geovani Perez, 29, at the Ibis Bay Waterfront Resort, where they both worked as handymen, maintenance men and security guards.
Police arrested Marquez after finding him hiding under a Stock Island trailer about 16 hours after the stabbing.
Perez, who before dying identified his attacker as "Frank Leon," called 911 at 1 a.m. to say a man armed with a knife was going to kill him, and police found him lying in the hotel parking lot with a 1-inch puncture wound under his right breast, according to police.
Police found a filet knife and a butcher knife on the nearby North Roosevelt Boulevard seawall, police said.
Marquez's next court hearing is set for April, but police officer interviews are still not complete and the State Attorney's Office is still interviewing civilian witnesses, Vogel said. The state could be ready to go to trial by mid to late summer, barring any other legal maneuvering that arises, she added.
• The oldest case on the docket is that of Miami residents Sean Roberts, who was a juvenile at the time of his arrest, and William Dieguez, 25, both of whom were charged with first-degree murder in the May 22, 2010, death of 18-year-old Franklin Joaquin Randleman Jr. on Big Pine Key.
Dieguez and Roberts are accused of killing Randleman after breaking into the mobile home where he lived with his grandmother, Betty Massey, in the Seahorse RV Park, reports say.
Vogel described defense lawyers for Roberts "have been a revolving door," and no new attorney had been appointed by last week. The case is set on the May docket, but trial by then seems unlikely as no date has been set due to defense lawyer issues regarding Roberts, Vogel said. Collection of evidence, called discovery in legal parlance, is complete except for civilian witness interviews. Key West attorney Manny Garcia represents Dieguez, Vogel said.
• Tod Geoffrey Helfrich, 49, formerly of Marathon, was indicted on a first-degree murder charge in the Sept. 1, 2012 death of Carl Eric Johanson, 66, who was found beaten in his apartment at the Henry Haskins Senior Citizen Plaza, 1400 Kennedy Drive, with his throat slashed and his hands and mouth bound by tape.
Helfrich met Johanson at 801 Bourbon Bar on Duval Street days before the homicide, police say.
This case could go to trial this year, barring some unforeseen legal event, though the tentative trial date of May 19 seems unlikely, Vogel said. Public defender Jason Smith recently took over the case from Chris Bridger. Interviews in the case remain ongoing, Vogel said.
• Ed Bozarth was found slain and left to rot beneath the cabin of his Key Largo liveaboard in July 2007. Denise Bozarth, 41, moved to the Panhandle a week before her husband's body was discovered at Gilbert's Resort on July 1, 2007.
Gilbert's bar customers had noticed an odor coming from the boat on which he and Denise had lived, the Screw U-2, reports say. Ed Bozarth, 62, was left tied up in the engine room and covered with a canvas sail storage bag. His head was bashed in.
Circuit Judge Luis Garcia ruled in January to toss her confession, because law enforcement were obligated to cease interviewing Denise Bozarth when she asked for an attorney about an hour-and-a-half into the March 15, 2012, interview and just moments before she made her confession.
How that will impact further legal proceedings is unclear, but the next court conference is set for Tuesday in Plantation Key, but that could be postponed until May, Vogel said. Witness and law enforcement interviews are still ongoing in the case.