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INFORMER BURIED, BUT QUESTIONS LINGER

Tallahassee police are to blame, some say.
Published May 14, 2008

Rachel Morningstar Hoffman was laid to rest Tuesday amid grief and questions about how and why she died.

Hoffman, 23, was killed last week while serving as an informer for the Tallahassee Police Department.

Police say she didn't follow proper protocol on a drug sting, agreeing to meet two suspects away from the spot where police told her to stay, and that led to her death.

But friends and relatives say authorities put Hoffman at risk.

"The Tallahassee police are trying to slander her," said lifelong friend Cole Altner, 22, who spoke at the service. "They have a responsibility for her life and death."

More than 800 people attended Hoffman's "celebration of life" service at Temple Ahavat Shalom in Palm Harbor. In the synagogue's foyer, scores of pictures showed Hoffman's beaming smile as she hugged friendsor snuggled with her cat Bentley.

Many spoke of Hoffman's soul-warming hugs.

"She packed a lot of life in her 23 years," said her father, Irv Hoffman, who lives in Palm Harbor. "I wish I was more like her, celebrating life."

Margie Weiss wore the shirt her daughter bought for her as a Mother's Day gift. On the shirt was a huge heart.

A graduate of Countryside High School and Florida State University, Hoffman was in a pretrial drug diversion program for a February 2007 charge of marijuana possession and resisting arrest.

On April 17, Tallahassee police served a search warrant and found marijuana and ecstasy at her apartment.

In an effort to avoid more serious charges, Hoffman agreed to become an informer.

So the young woman who aspired to be a chef met Andrea J. Green, 25, and Deneilo R. Bradshaw, 23, on May 7 to buy 1,500 ecstasy pills, 2 ounces of cocaine or crack, and a gun. She had $12,000 to $15,000 in cash when she met the men, said her boyfriend, Ben Reeves.

Her body was found two days later in rural Taylor County.

Hoffman's death has prompted official questions into how the Tallahassee police handle undercover operatives.

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said he has asked his inspector general to review the matter and stressed that his agency would review the "process" Tallahassee police use in working with informers, not the "case" involving Hoffman.

Staff writer Jennifer Liberto contributed to his report. Demorris A. Lee can be reached at 445-4174 or dalee@sptimes.com.