Franklin Tyrone Tucker is awaiting trial on first-degree murder for the fatal stabbing of a man on Stock Island.
But unlike his two co-defendants, Rory Hank Wilson and John Travis Johnson, Tucker, 47, has a wealthy girlfriend — the co-founder of CrossFit — in his corner. Forbes estimated CrossFit was a $4 billion brand in 2015.
Lauren Jenai, who bills herself as having founded CrossFit, Inc. with her then-husband Greg Glassman in 2000, is willing to post up to $1 million in bail when Tucker appears Jan. 28 before Monroe County Circuit Court Chief Judge Mark Jones.
Jenai, a mother of four who lives in Portland, Oregon, also hired a private investigator and a New York lawyer to help her childhood friend “Ty.” He has since turned into a romantic interest while they were communicating after the murder of Mathew Bonnett, 59, at 5650 Laurel Ave. the night of Nov. 17, 2017.
Police say Bonnett left his home to investigate a commotion going on at a nearby tree house shanty when he was killed.
Tucker and Wilson were leaving the tree house and on the stairs when they ran into Bonnett, who was stabbed multiple times, police said. Johnson was reportedly the getaway driver.
Investigators say Tucker, Johnson and Wilson planned the robbery after hearing there might be a large amount of cash at the home. Johnson drove the two other men to the scene of the homicide in his black truck and waited, police said.
All three remain locked up at the Stock Island Detention Center without bond since their arrests days after the killing.
Prosecutors don’t believe the killing was premeditated. They have also charged the three with armed robbery and Tucker with witness tampering for allegedly threatening a witness five days after the killing.
“There is no intent to seek the death penalty,” said Larry Kahn, spokesman for Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward.
Jenai said Tucker was living on a boat and then staying at the Key West overnight homeless shelter. He left Arizona in about 2015 on foot, she said, heading to Key West, where he went to work on boats and did other manual labor.
The killing happened during a robbery that was over a crack cocaine deal struck earlier that day, police said.
Jenai, who went through a messy divorce with Glassman and had to sell her CrossFit shares, said Tucker is not involved in the Key West drug culture.
The tree house murder also left a woman, the victim of the armed robbery, with her throat cut.
No trial date has been set.
Jenai says there is no physical evidence linking Tucker to the killing and that he was arrested merely due to a statement by one of the co-defendants.
When he was arrested for Bonnett’s murder, Jenai took action.
“I went in like, ‘Oh my friend might need help and I just wanted to make sure he didn’t get caught up in something and didn’t have anyone looking out for him,’” Jenai said. “I just know this whole situation is wrong and I have a story to tell.”
Jenai said that when she and Tucker were “kids” growing up in Philadelphia, they had crushes on one another but they remained platonic and reconnected on Facebook several years before his arrest.
She said Tucker didn’t even have a lawyer for a long time after his arrest. Through video visitation — Monroe County jails don’t offer in-person inmate visits anymore — the two realized they shared a romantic attraction.
“Even though this is a relationship that’s not physical, he and I have known each other for such a long time, it doesn’t seem strange to me we have feelings for each other,” she said. “It’s been a year of constant communication.”
A grand jury in December indicted the three men on charges of first-degree murder. All three were deemed “indigent” by the court, which means they are too poor to hire attorneys. Wilson, 51, and Johnston, 41, have court-appointed counsel.
Jenai has filed an affidavit with the court, saying she will vouch for Tucker’s bond. He and his co-defendants haven’t left jail since their arrests in 2017. She plans to be there in court Jan. 28 for the hearing.
“Whether he’s guilty or not, I feel like we have a Constitution and there’s rules on what should happen,” Jenai said.
Jenai’s claim to fame has been challenged by CrossFit.
The CrossFit people claim Jenai never founded the exercise regimen.
“She is in no way associated with CrossFit at this time and was never apart of its founding,” said Ben Allen, CrossFit’s military liaison said in an email Wednesday.