Irv Hoffman came to court for a week and listened to the grisly details of his daughter's murder. He left when the medical examiner took the stand. But two restless days of jury deliberation shook his spirit. And before the sun rose Thursday — his daughter's birthday — Hoffman left this Panhandle city and its dark significance seeking solace at her grave in Palm Harbor. "I wanted to be here today," he said. "Today was my day to be with Rachel."
Moments before Hoffman arrived at the grave site, the jury entered the Leon County courtroom and returned a guilty verdict against one of two men charged with the murder of Rachel Hoffman, a 23-year-old Countryside High School graduate who acted as a police informant in a May 2008 botched drug sting.
It took nearly 22 hours for jurors to convict Deneilo Bradshaw, 24, on charges of first-degree murder and robbery. Today, the 12-member panel will consider whether to recommend the death penalty.
"It is kind of bittersweet," Hoffman said of the timing. "I think it's really ironic that the verdict came on her birthday."
He bought a carrot cake, her favorite, from Publix and sat at her grave all day as her friends and others came to visit with trinkets and balloons.
"She was full of life and mischief," he said.
Rachel Hoffman, a Florida State University graduate who wanted to become a chef, began working as a police informant to avoid jail time after getting arrested for marijuana possession for the second time in as many years.
Despite her inexperience, Tallahassee police and federal Drug Enforcement Administration officers gave Hoffman $13,000 to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, cocaine and a gun from Bradshaw and his brother-in-law Andrea Green, 27, on May 7, 2008.
Officers lost Hoffman when the two men changed the location of the drug buy to a dead-end road north of Tallahassee.
About 36 hours later, they found her bullet-ridden body, covered by her Grateful Dead sweatshirt, in a ditch by a rural road.
Defense attorneys will argue at today's hearing that Green — who goes on trial for murder next year — is the mastermind in the robbery, not Bradshaw.
But prosecutors will emphasize evidence that Bradshaw arranged the drug deal, stole the handgun used to kill her, bought bleach to clean the blood from her car, and then used the money to buy clothes and jewelry at an Orlando mall.
The jury's decision to find Bradshaw guilty of simple robbery, instead of the initial charge of armed robbery, gives the defense team hope that the jury feels Bradshaw played a lesser role. The attorneys will ask jurors to recommend a life-long prison sentence instead of death. The sentencing decision ultimately comes to Circuit Judge Mark Walker.
Bradshaw's family is expected to testify at the sentencing hearing. His stepfather, Karey Freeman, said he disagreed with the jury's verdict.
"I think the evidence presented by the defense team was sufficient to say this boy didn't do what they said he did," Freeman said. "He may be guilty of something, but not what he was charged with."
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.