Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rachel Hoffman murder case goes to jury

By John Frank, Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau

Published Tuesday, December 15, 2009

TALLAHASSEE — Showing a picture of her body in a ditch, prosecutors closed the case Tuesday against one of two men charged with killing 23-year-old Clearwater native Rachel Hoffman in a botched Tallahassee police drug sting last year.

"They left her rotting on the side of the road like a piece of garbage," said prosecutor Georgia Cappleman, as she put the photo on a big screen in front of jurors.

Deneilo Bradshaw, 24, faces the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder and armed robbery. His co-defendant, brother-in-law Andrea Green, 25, will face trial in October on the same charges.

Authorities enlisted Hoffman, a graduate of Countryside High School and Florida State University, to act as a drug buyer in order to avoid prison for her own drug charges.

On May 7, 2008, she drove her Volvo to a park in northeast Tallahassee with $13,000 and a wire provided by the Tallahassee Police Department to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, cocaine and a gun from Bradshaw and Green. But police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officials — about 20 officers in total — lost sight of her when she didn't turn into the park.

"I have no idea where I am," she said, her last words recorded on a listening device before it went static.

Two days later, authorities found her body in a ditch in a rural area of Taylor County. She was shot execution style while sitting behind the wheel of her car. Five .25-caliber bullets were recovered from her body.

"She was a free spirit and trusted people," Cappleman said in her closing argument. "She trusted the police to protect her and they failed her."

Her parents, Irv Hoffman and Margie Weiss of Pinellas County, came to Tallahassee for the trial and listened to nearly all the testimony.

Defense attorney Clyde Taylor told jurors that Bradshaw didn't pull the trigger and Green threatened to kill him if he told anyone. His case took less than 15 minutes during the three-week trial in Leon County court.

"Green had the gun," he said. "Green pumped five bullets into the body of Rachel Hoffman, and Green was threatening (Bradshaw) with the same fate."

After instructions from Circuit Judge Mark Walker, the jury will begin deliberations. The judge told jurors to pack a bag. He plans to sequester them until they reach a verdict because of the high-profile nature of the case.

Hoffman's death led to a new law, named in her honor, to establish minimum standards that law enforcement groups must meet when dealing with informers.

It calls for command-level oversight in the use of informers and takes into account a person's age, maturity and emotional state and a mission's level of risk. Police also cannot promise an informer more lenient treatment; only prosecutors and judges can do that.

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