Convicted Ocean Reef burglar wants reduction of 15-year sentence

A man serving 15 years in prison for burglarizing an Ocean Reef home and attacking a Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy wants a second chance at a reduced sentence.

Former Homestead resident Juan R. Tavarez, 33, is scheduled for a December 2027 release from state prison.

Tavarez was arrested early Dec. 15, 2010, after a wild chase on County Road 905 on North Key Largo, when he was accused of driving his Honda sedan at a Sheriff's Office deputy's patrol car. At one point, Tavarez faced 31 charges stemming from Ocean Reef burglaries and the pursuit.

He was held in the county jail until mid-2013, when he signed a plea deal on counts of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon on a law officer, burglarizing an occupied home and two counts of grand theft. The other counts were dropped.

Tavarez signed the negotiated agreement that includes the admission, "I believe that I am guilty," leading to the 15-year sentence imposed by Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia.

In February 2014, Tavarez filed an appeal contending a prior burglary conviction at age 17 should not have counted toward his score sheet for sentencing since he was a juvenile. State Attorney Catherine Vogel wrote that Tavarez was sentenced as an adult in that earlier case.

Garcia rejected the appeal. The Third District Court of Appeal agreed last June, saying alleged "score sheet errors" cannot be considered if the sentence is within legal limits.

Tavarez filed a second appeal last October, claiming his attorney in 2013 "bullied and coerced" him with threats of spending "200-plus" years in prison if Tavarez did take the deal.

Tavarez also claims he was under the influence of several prescribed drugs when he accepted the 15-year sentence. That appeal now is working its way through the legal system.

In 2010, deputies were on alert after several burglaries at the exclusive private Ocean Reef Club. Late Dec. 14, a deputy spotted a Honda car parked at an opening in the Ocean Reef boundary fence.

Two people reached the car and it sped south on 905, with deputies reporting the car exceeded 100 mph. Nearing the U.S. 1 intersection near mile marker 106, the Honda spun around and drove at a patrol car driven by Deputy Peter Garcia.

Garcia swerved to avoid a collision but the Honda crashed into two other patrol cars. Two women in the Honda were arrested. Tavarez ran away but was found hours later near the Jewfish Creek Bridge, suffering from "head trauma ... and hypothermia from exposure to the cold weather," according to the Sheriff's Office.

Jewelry, coins and bonds worth more than $20,000 were recovered from the Honda.