The sad case of Rachel Hoffman – a 23-year-old Florida State University student busted for marijuana possession, threatened into becoming a police informant, then murdered during a bungled drug sting – continues to play out in court.
After being threatened with jail time for pot and agreeing to work for authorities, police officers gave Rachel $13,000 in marked bills and arranged a buy of cocaine, ecstasy and a hand gun. She was killed with the weapon she was supposed to buy and robbed of the police money.
Click here to read the Cannabis Culture feature article “Rachel Hoffman: A Drug War Tragedy” by Paul Armentano for a full background on Rachel’s case.
On December 17, 2009, which would have been Rachel’s 25th Birthday, one of her suspected killers, car-wash worker Deneilo Bradshaw, was found guilty of first degree murder with robbery and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Bradshaw, who faced a possible death sentence, is appealing the decision.
Bradshaw claimed his brother in law and co-accused, Andrea Greene, had forced him into going along with the robbery and was the one who actually pulled the trigger. Greene is scheduled to stand trial in October 2010.
The only police officer fired in the case, Ryan Pender, wants his job back and recently appealed his dismissal in court.
Haggeling with police union reps and Tallahassee city attorneys, Pender refused to take responsibility for what he said was Rachel’s failure to obey police orders during the disastrous operation, and broke down in tears – not in remorse for Rachel, but when his lawyer asked him how it would feel to get his job back:
“To get my career back, that I worked eight-and-a-half years for … ,” he trailed off, overcome with emotion. “I’ve learned a tremendous amount more than I thought I would have learned from this.” [Tallahassee Democrat]
The former officer, who has repeatedly attempted to paint Rachel as a big-time drug pusher, continued his inflated accusations:
“I had at least seven CIs, and out of all of them, she was the most knowledgeable,” he testified. “She used the language. She knew what prices were.” [Tampa Bay Online]
Rachel’s family, who fought successfully to have much of the evidence in their daughter’s murder case released, blasted the fired police officer:
“Ryan Pender lost his job as a result of a notoriously incompetent operation which he case managed. So he lost his job. That pales in comparison to what Rachel Hoffman lost,” said Hoffman family attorney Lance Block. [WCTV CBS]
Pender should know by the end of March whether his position will be reinstated.
Of course, the firing of Officer Pender will not return Rachel to her loving family, but hopefully, at the very least, send a message to other police officers who might use small-time pot smokers as police operatives in bigger cases, and shed more light on shady police practices.
In memory of their daugher, Rachel’s mother and father wrote inspiring statements read in court during Bradshaw’s trial, posted in full below.
My name is Margie Weiss. I am and always will be the proud mother of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman.
Rachel was born on December 17, 1984 in Clearwater. Yesterday was her 25th birthday. She is my only child. She originally came out as a beautiful brunette blue eyed infant and blossomed into a bright, attractive young woman with flowing, wavy red hair, milky skin with freckles and big brown eyes. Although she didn’t have any brothers or sisters, since birth she was surrounded by her pets: a tank of fish, a cockatiel, a golden retriever, two black cats and a ragamuffin, later graduating to riding horses, showing off her adventurous athletic abilities. This conditioned her with a sensitivity, gentleness and genuineness for others. From the time she was a toddler and first entered pre-school, she loved being with other children, always in the thick of everything. She was full of energy and engaged in every possible activity. Rachel was a very active child and teenager. She danced for 10 years, did gymnastics, brownies, karate, softball and cheerleading. Born a music lover, her talents were cultivated: as first chair flute in middle school band followed by five years of classical piano lessons where she excelled. No wonder Rachel wound up attending and loving music festivals. She had a good ear for listening, especially to her friends.
When the time came for Rachel to apply for college, only FSU would do. It was her first choice and she was ecstatic when she was accepted. Our Rabbi would drive up from Palm Harbor twice a year to visit the FSU campus and he told me that Rachel was the only young adult who was present for all his visits and that she always followed them up with a thank you note. She was so active in our Temple since preschool, her Bat mitzvah where she showed off her Hebrew fluency leading the entire Shabbat service, along with her concern for the homeless in her speech, as well as immense pride for her heritage from her grandparents who were Holocaust survivors. Then there was Confirmation, and a trip to Israel after starting college. She also worked as a counselor for years at the Jewish Summer camp and had a special affinity for the little ones. Rachel watched out for the underdog, the kids who were from divorced families or who were a little different. She majored in psychology and was interested in pursuing a career working with children.
Losing my only child at an age where she had her whole life ahead of her, so suddenly, so unexpectedly, and in the manner in which she died, without any opportunity to prepare, much less say goodbye, has been, well, definitely a challenge. While I appreciate this opportunity to tell you who Rachel was and how her death has affected our community of family and friends, and me, there is not enough time or words that can completely describe how the impact of losing her in this way has had on all of us who knew her.
It has become painful attending synagogue because it reminds me of Rachel’s funeral and seeing all the families with grandchildren, one honor which I will never have a chance to embrace, nor a wedding, nor a travel partner, nor my only child and best friend to hold my hand if and when I outlive my Mom and my husband. For now I avoid thinking of Rachel as dead because it is just too unimaginable.
Rachel had a smile that lit up the room. That smile is evident in every photo taken of her especially with her family and friends lovingly surrounding her. Her warmth, her sensitive listening and care along with her nurturing spirit gave everyone an oasis for acceptance. Her cooking is still famous amongst her friends here in Tallahassee, as she fed all her friends and had dreams of becoming a child psychologist and a chef. The underlying truth I get from talking to Rachel’s friends, some of whom attended this trial, was Rachel’s knack for making friends so easily by being so attentive to each person she met. Rachel made all of us feel significant and special. I miss her dearly.
This trial has been a most difficult experience. Hearing and seeing the evidence was painful, but I knew I had to be here. It is what a mother does for her daughter. I will always be Rachel’s mother and I will love her forever!
Margie Weiss, Rachel’s mother
My name is Irv Hoffman and I am the father of Rachel Hoffman. Since my daughter’s death, I am not always sure where I’m supposed to be other than at her grave site. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do there and I don’t know what I’m supposed to say. There is no awakening from this horror I feel daily. This is not a dream that I will ever awaken from. I feel totally devastated physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Rachel was unique and I have no doubt that had she been given the chance she would have touched thousands of lives. Rachel graduated from FSU with a degree in psychology in four years. She had hoped to either go to graduate school or pursue a degree in culinary. Rachel loved to cook for her friends and loved good food. Rachel was giving. She told me she often thought of the homeless who had no food and on occasion after eating out, she would give her left over food to a homeless person on the street. Rachel was loving and compassionate. She had a heart to help others, especially children and those who were disadvantaged. She loved her work with children as a camp counselor during the summers. She always reached out to those who did not fit in both at college and at her synagogue.
Rachel loved music from a very early age. I remember taking her to her first concert and the joy it brought her. It was not unusual for her to look for people on the sidelines who looked excluded and pull them into her circle of friends to dance. While at the home of a family friend, Rachel befriended a little girl with Down’s syndrome and would often dance with her much to the child’s delight.
While in high school, Rachel thought it would be a wonderful idea to take in a foreign exchange student from Spain. Rachel made a point of including this child in her circle of friends and would take her everywhere.
Rachel was young and made mistakes. As a mental health counselor, I had no doubt that she was ready to move on from this. She had many choices to make that lied ahead of her, but those choices were taken away from her, not by her choice but against her will. I often wonder what she would have become. She had a promising future. She loved people and people loved her.
Rachel could have been anyone’s daughter. She comes from a large and loving family including her grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Rachel loved to travel to visit her family and would make frequent trips home to stay connected. Her death was devastating to her family.
Being a mental health professional, some might think it would be easier for me to resolve issues of loss. However, to the contrary, it just hasn’t been that way for me. The constant, intrusive thoughts of the last minutes of Rachel’s life haunt me daily. Something in you dies when you bear the unbearable.
Rachel was and is my whole world. I was a devoted father to this beautiful girl both in her good times and her difficult times of adjustment. Her death has devastated my soul and changed my life for the worse forevermore. Life as I knew it is over. It ended just as Rachel’s life ended; I no longer find interest in activities I used to enjoy. My world feels upside down. All my dreams for Rachel which will be unanswered seem to only make me feel more depressed. There will be no grandchildren, no more bike rides, cookouts, vacations, precious times shared. Rachel’s life is over. My life and the many people who Rachel touched have been forever changed.
Irv Hoffman, Rachel’s dad