The Orlando prosecutor being targeted by Ron DeSantis amid a triple shooting investigation continued to defend herself against the Florida governor’s attacks, claiming Thursday that he’s searching for any reason to oust her from office because she’s a Democrat.
During a Thursday update on pending charges in the shooting—which left a 9-year-old girl, a 38-year-old woman, and a local news reporter dead last month—State Attorney Monique Worrell lambasted DeSantis as she accused him of leveraging the tragedy to probe her office and dig up a reason to suspend her.
“This isn’t about whether I follow the law, this isn’t about whether or not my policies are a danger to public safety,” she said. “This is about the governor wanting to control the politics across this state. And quite frankly it’s dangerous because this is a democracy, not a dictatorship.”
After grilling Worrell during a press conference on Feb. 27, DeSantis filed a formal request that ordered her office to provide records regarding 19-year-old Keith Moses’ past arrests and the records of every instance in which a person arrested for a felony or in violation of probation was not charged by her office since 2020, when she was elected.
A letter from the governor’s office said the request was to “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.”
Worrell fired back that, despite having nothing to hide, her office won’t bow down to DeSantis’ unrealistic records request—ordered to be filed by Tuesday—just so he can score political points. She said she’s already sent all information requested about the February shooting and its suspect specifically.
Worrell said Thursday that she hasn’t failed at any point, but fulfilling the massive records request by Tuesday would be impossible on such short notice and pricey, with an estimated cost of $800,000 to taxpayers.
Worrell told The Daily Beast last week that she was the subject of a “ridiculous witch hunt” that’s seeking any reason to remove her from office.
“There’s definitely a target across my back and it has nothing to do with anything that I’ve done, but just simply with the fact that the governor wants full control over Florida politics and he doesn’t respect the will of the electorate,” Worrell said.
DeSantis, Orange County Sheriff John Mina, and Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) have all suggested Worrell was partially the reason that Moses was still on the streets when he allegedly massacred three people last month despite a 2021 arrest in which he wasn’t prosecuted.
Worrell clarified Thursday that Moses wasn’t locked up because his lone arrest as an adult (his past juvenile arrests, which reportedly included gun charges, battery and grand theft, are sealed under Florida law) was for misdemeanor drug possession that didn’t warrant him being charged because of a law DeSantis signed himself in 2019.
Worrell said that legislation, which amended the legal definition of cannabis to require a minimum of 0.3 percent of TCH, made it impossible to tell in November 2021 whether the cannabis substance Moses allegedly possessed was hemp or an illegal amount of marijuana.
As for a gun that was recovered from Moses’ car during that arrest, something DeSantis honed in on in his criticism of Worrell, she said it was a moot point in prosecuting the 19-year-old because deputies from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office never sent it for DNA testing.
Worrell repeatedly insinuated Thursday that DeSantis cares more about removing another political opponent from office than he does getting justice for the shooting victims, calling his actions “political fear-mongering.”
“I am an elected Democrat who is not in alignment with the governor’s politics,” she said. “This has been an attempt to build a basis for a suspension. The last bulleted item in his inquiry was to get an opportunity to go through every single file in my office so that he could find a basis.”
Worrell says the governor’s office has interviewed former colleagues in search of an example of non-prosecution—something the governor used last year to oust fellow prosecutor Andrew Warren, a Democrat from Tampa, when he refused to prosecute abortion patients.
Families of two of the victims allegedly slain by Moses have spoken against DeSantis and Scott themselves, accusing the Republicans of politicizing their loved ones’ deaths.
“They are sickened over what they believe has been the exploitation of their children’s deaths by Governor Ron DeSantis and Senator Rick Scott,” said Attorney Mark NeJame, who is representing the families of Lyons and Major, FL Voice News reported.
The attorney also pointed out that, even if Moses had been convicted for his 2021 arrest, he would’ve likely been free again by the time last month’s shooting occurred.
“Even if the killer had gotten a year in jail from when he was first arrested,” NeJame said, “…he would have been out of jail months before his killing spree began.”
Instead of rushing to fill the governor’s records request, Worrell says she’ll continue to work for Orlando, which includes the prosecution of Moses. She announced Thursday that he’ll be charged by the end of the week with three counts of second-degree murder—charges she believes will likely be upgraded to first-degree murder as cops’ investigation continues.
“Facts matter. I know they don’t matter to the governor, I know they don’t matter to the senator and sometimes they don’t matter to the sheriff,” Worrell said. “This is a statewide challenge faced by prosecutors everywhere; however, the governor and the senator chose to specifically select my office for criticism regarding an issue that was raised because of legislation that the governor himself signed.”
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