FILE PHOTO: Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks during his 2022 U.S. midterm elections night party in Tampa, Florida, U.S., November 8, 2022. REUTERS/Marco Bello
By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – A Florida prosecutor on Thursday lashed out at Ron DeSantis for “political fear mongering” after the Republican governor criticized her office for failing to keep a teen accused of killing a 9-year-old girl in jail for previous crimes.
DeSantis’ office last month sent a letter to State Attorney Monique Worrell in Orlando demanding she hand over the criminal and judicial record of the suspect, Keith Moses. He allegedly killed the 9-year-old, a woman in her 20s and a television journalist a week earlier, while wounding the girl’s mother and another reporter.
Moses, 19, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday to three counts of first-degree murder and two counts of attempted first-degree murder. He remains in jail on those charges.
A letter from Worrell’s office made public on Thursday said claims that the state’s attorney in the past may have “failed to administer justice” in regard to Moses amounted to “political fear-mongering.”
The letter said Worrell had reviewed every case involving Moses and stood behind all decisions regarding his juvenile and adult dispositions.
“While it is convenient to assess blame on our office, the reality is that there is nothing in Mr. Moses’ history that would have predicted that he would commit a mass murder,” the office wrote. It said responsible gun laws would reduce the likelihood of future mass shootings.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter from Worrell’s office.
DeSantis, widely thought to be weighing a 2024 presidential campaign, traveled to New York, Chicago and Philadelphia in February to speak to law enforcement groups on criminal justice.
“We must determine if Mr. Moses was enabled by gaps in our sentencing laws that must be corrected, or, to be frank, your office’s failure to properly administer justice,” Ryan Newman, the governor’s general counsel, said in last week’s letter to Worrell.
Newman also wrote that Moses was a “known gang member” and was allowed to remain on the streets after being convicted as a juvenile of several crimes, including aggravated battery, assault and robbery with a firearm.
The letter noted that Moses was arrested in 2021 for possession of cannabis, but Worrell’s office decided against pursuing drug and gun charges against him. Moses was on felony juvenile probation at the time for previous crimes.
Worrell’s office said charges were not brought because prosecutors could not prove Moses and two others were in possession of 4.6 grams of marijuana and who was in possession of a gun found at the scene.
Worrell is not the first Florida prosecutor whom DeSantis has confronted. In August, DeSantis suspended a state’s attorney in Hillsborough County who had pledged that he would not bring criminal cases against people seeking or providing abortions despite legal restrictions that Florida has placed on the procedure.