By Brendan O’Brien
(Reuters) – Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has ordered a local prosecutor to hand over information on why a suspect with a history of violent crime as a juvenile was not in prison, but on the street where he allegedly carried out a deadly shooting spree last week.
The Republican governor’s office sent a letter on Tuesday to the state’s attorney in Orlando demanding details about the criminal and judicial record of Keith Moses, 19. Moses is accused of killing a 9-year-old girl, a woman in her 20s and a television journalist covering the incident in Pine Hills on Feb. 22. The girl’s mother and another reporter were wounded.
Moses was arrested and charged with three counts of first degree murder with a firearm and two counts of attempted first degree murder. He has been held in jail since shortly after the shootings.
“The shocking nature of these horrific acts is difficult enough to process, but even more galling is the fact that the man who was promptly arrested for these crimes has been allowed to remain on the streets,” Ryan Newman, the governor’s general counsel, wrote to State Attorney Monique Worrell, who was elected in 2020.
Worrell’s office was not immediately available for comment. On Monday, she told a local news outlet in Orlando that there are strict limitations regarding juvenile punishment and she favored passage of stricter punishments for juveniles who commit violent crimes.
DeSantis, widely thought to be weighing a 2024 presidential campaign, has been accelerating efforts to build his national profile. In February, he traveled to New York, Chicago and Philadelphia to speak to law enforcement groups on criminal justice matters.
In August, DeSantis suspended a state’s attorney in Hillsborough County who had pledged not to bring criminal cases against people seeking or providing abortions.
In the letter on Tuesday, Newman wrote that Moses was a “known gang member” 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 did not pursue charges against him. Moses was on felony juvenile probation at the time for previous crimes.
“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,” he wrote to Worrell.
DeSantis’ office is seeking from Worrell’s office all documents and information regarding Moses, adjudication of his previous cases and his lengthy criminal record.
During a news conference last week, Worrell said her office decided against charges in the 2021 case because prosecutors could not prove Moses and two others were in possession of 4.6 grams of marijuana.
“When you have a quantity that low, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement does not test the substance, and that means the State Attorney’s Office cannot prove the case,” Worrell said, according to a report in Florida Voice, a statewide news outlet.
(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by David Gregorio)