The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office has formed a major crimes unit tasked with prosecuting some of the more serious cases coming before Keys judges.
The unit was also formed with the mission in mind of training younger prosecutors in trying major crimes in court, said State Attorney Dennis Ward.
“We’ve put together a group of more seasoned prosecutors who at the same time will join with younger prosecutors who will learn as they go through this process,” Ward said.
The unit is made up of three attorneys, led by newly appointed Chief Assistant State Attorney Mark Wilson. Joining him are Colleen Dunne and Val Winter.
“It’s a more cohesive office,” Ward said.
Wilson, who led Ward’s transition team after he defeated Catherine Vogel in her bid for reelection in 2016, came up with the idea after reviewing cases in the Upper Keys. Wilson said he wanted to make sure “that the Middle and Upper Keys homicide and sexual battery cases get the same special treatment that we have traditionally given to those cases in Key West.”
According to Wilson, Monroe County’s State Attorney’s Office traditionally has a single major-crimes prosecutor in Key West who handles the most serious crimes in the Lower Keys. The serious cases in the Middle and Upper Keys “have generally been handled by the lead prosecutor in those respective offices,” Wilson said.
“The theory behind having a major-crimes prosecutor in the first place was that the office's most experienced prosecutor would have a reduced caseload in order to ensure that the most serious cases received the focus and attention they deserved,” he said.
Wilson said he felt Middle and Upper Keys cases deserve the same attention. He called Winter and Dunne “our most seasoned prosecutors.”
The most serious case in all the Keys right now is the double homicide of Tavernier couple Tara Rosado and Carlos Ortiz in 2015. The first-degree murder prosecution in that case against Jeremy Macauley was transferred this month to the Palm Beach County State Attorney’s Office because of a potential conflict of interest with Ward. He helped Macauley attorney Ed O’Donnell Sr. with the defense while in private practice right after Macauley was charged in March 2016.
But there are three other serious cases in the Upper Keys that Ward said require dedicated prosecutors. Jeremy Stigler, 44, faces a second-degree murder charge in the November strangulation death of Jade Dixon, 47, in Tavernier.
Prosecutors are also preparing for the trial of John Hayes, 53. Hayes is charged with beating and raping a woman behind the Tavernier Towne shopping center last March.
And Robert Schminky, 58, has yet to stand trial for attempted first-degree murder after he led Monroe County Sheriff’s Office deputies and Florida Highway Patrol troopers on a wild car chase and shootout in January 2015, after severely beating his wife with a shotgun.
David Goodhue: 305-440-3204