ORLANDO, Fla. (WFLA) — Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Monique Worrell held a briefing on her office’s interactions with Keith Moses, the Pine Hills shooter who killed a 9-year-old girl, a reporter, and a 38-year-old woman at the end of February.
At the briefing, Worrell addressed a recent audit request by the governor’s office, data on homicide cases in the judicial circuit, and how SAO9 had interacted with Moses.
Taking the podium to begin, Worrell thanked her team of prosecutors for their work and support of her as the state attorney. She said she was there to defend her office and staff’s honor.
Regarding the case against Moses, Worrell said she would be filing charges against him for:
- 2nd degree murder with a firearm for Natacha Augustin
- 2nd degree murder with a firearm for T’Yonna Major
- 2nd degree murder with a firearm for Dylan Lyons
Worrell said first degree murder charges were not going to be filed yet because state statutes require a grand jury indicts a suspect for first degree murder.
“In order to continue to keep Mr. Moses detained, it is necessary for us to file these charges as holding charges at this time,” Worrell said, describing it as a normal part of the charging process in cases of this nature.
Additionally, Worrell said attempted first degree murder charges were to be filed against Moses for shooting Brandi Major and Jesse Walden, in addition to burglary of a dwelling with battery with a firearm, shooting within a vehicle, shooting within a dwelling, shooting within a vehicle, shooting within a dwelling, possession of a firearm by an adjudicated delinquent, concealing a firearm, three counts of resisting an officer without violence, and trespass of a structure.
The state attorney said those charges would be filed by Friday and that the office intended to “vigorously” prosecute the case.
Regarding the governor’s office request for information via letter to Worrell, the Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney said there were multiple unfounded claims and conclusions, which she found “irresponsible” and called them misleading and dangerous due to “political fearmongering.”
While DeSantis’ office requested a review of the situation due to what they called a failure of office, families of the slain reporter, Dylan Lyons, and the 9-year-old, T’Yonna Major, pushed back on the governor and U.S. Sen. Rick Scott’s comments, saying the two elected officials were politicizing the deaths of their loved ones.
Worrell said her office had responded to the letter Thursday morning, then detailed her response.
“As I’ve referenced many times throughout the attack on my administration, the one adult charge by Mr. Moses was the possession of marijuana of 4.6 grams,” Worrell said. “I do want to highlight however that in 2019, Gov. DeSantis executed Senate Bill 1020, and that amended the legal definition of cannabis to require a minimum of 0.3% of THC. What this means is that it became difficult, if not impossible, for us to differentiate legal hemp from illegal cannabis.”
Worrell said in a briefing packet to be provided, news articles and memorandums from state attorneys across Florida who said they would decline to prosecute under 20 grams of marijuana or misdemeanor amounts as a result of a lack of testing able to provide testing going forward under that legislation.
Additionally, she said the packet would have a memorandum from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that had set a standard for what amounts of cannabis would be tested.
“What’s important to understand is that this wasn’t a policy of non-prosecution by my office, as has been claimed and asserted by the governor and the senator, this is a statewide challenge faced by prosecutors everywhere,” Worrell said. “However, the governor and the senator chose to select my office for criticism regarding an issue that was raised because of legislation that the governor himself signed.”
Worrell continued, detailing Moses’ prior criminal history. She said that Florida law prohibits her from going over the entirety of his criminal record, but that upon her review, despite the Orange County Sheriff’s “great lengths to paint a picture” of Moses as a “very violent individual with a very violent past,” Moses had four felony charges as juvenile.
She said those charges included two vehicle burglaries, where he broke into unoccupied vehicles with two other individuals to steal items from inside. One felony in that record was grand theft in the third degree, where he was a passenger in a stolen vehicle, according to Worrell. He was charged because he was a passenger, though there was no evidence in the record showing he had been the one to steal it.
Separately, Worrell said there was another charge against Moses for robbery with a weapon. The police report copies would be supplied in the packet mentioned, but Worrell said the case dispositions were unable to be shared.
“What’s important to understand about the robbery is that although Mr. Moses participated in the robbery, Mr. Moses was not the individual who held the firearm during the commission of the robbery,” Worrell said. “He was never alleged to be the individual holding that firearm during the robbery. It’s important because facts matter. I know they don’t matter to the governor, and I know they don’t matter to the senator, and I know they don’t matter sometimes to the sheriff, but facts do matter and it’s important that when we report on things, that we’re reporting the actual facts of what took place.”
Worrell said the four felonies in Moses’ history occurred in 2018 and 2019, before she took office as state attorney and that while she could not discuss case dispositions, none of the previous offenses under her predecessor would have gotten him incarcerated for life, and that she supported the decisions of the previous attorney.
“He was out on the streets because he did not commit an offense that would have justified life imprisonment,” Worrell said. “And it’s important for the community to understand that as prosecutors we uphold the law. Upholding the law doesn’t mean we just throw things against the wall to see what sticks, it means we prosecute cases that we believe can be proven beyond and to the exclusion of every reasonable doubt as is required by law.”
She said she “stands behind” the disposition of Moses’ juvenile cases, saying that while she was “blamed for the tragic shooting,” the reality was that the only way to reduce the likelihood of mass shootings is to enact responsible gun legislation to reduce the likelihood of more guns on the streets.
“I would urge the governor to reconsider his permitless carry legislation as that too would likely increase mass shootings in the future,” Worrell said.
Addressing the audit request from the governor’s office, Worrell said she would be providing all of the information requested in the first five bullet points of his request. For the last requested information, Worrell said information about individuals arrested for committing a felony or had violated probation terms for being arrested, had a prior criminal history, but were not prosecuted, she said it was not realistic to give that information in the timeframe requested.
SA Worrell then detailed some statistics for crime in the judicial circuit, showing both data from the previous administrations, and comparing them to her own term serving as the state attorney in Orange and Osceola counties.
Worrell appealed to the governor to enact legislation that would prevent future tragedies instead, including juvenile justice reforms for Florida courts.
“We have to invest resources into our juvenile justice system, because as I stated, there are very few crimes that a child can commit that will put them in prison for life,” Worrell said. “It’s not a matter of if they will get out, it’s a matter of when they will get out. If incarceration was the tool we could use to prevent crime from happening, as the nation that incarcerates more people than anywhere in the world, we shouldn’t have a crime problem.”
She said the reality was that incarceration was just one tool for community safety, and resources were another. Worrell said resources for programs that reduce violent crime was needed to be enacted, and that she hoped the legislature “would take this seriously” to address the violence being committed by Florida’s children.
As previously reported, Orange County Jail records show Moses was charged with first degree murder with a firearm for the deaths of Major and Lyons. The 19-year-old also shot and killed 38-year-old Nathacha Augustin the same day.
Referencing the letter from the governor’s office, Worrell said that as far as the alleged “failure” by Worrell’s office to administer justice, if his intentions were truly to administer justice, why did he “selectively solicit information” from her office, instead of asking for information from the sheriff about their “self-proclaimed misstep” about not testing DNA on the firearm.
“Now the sheriff said ‘well I would have like to see that case prosecuted,’ well if the sheriff would have liked to see that case prosecuted, his deputy should have conducted the DNA warrants as he said he was going to, and had the gun in that incident tested, then presented charges for prosecution to my office,” Worrell said. “Our job is to prosecute cases, not investigate them and provide us with our own charges for prosecution. But the governor said he was interested in seeing if there was a failure to administer justice, but he never solicited information on that failure from the sheriff’s office. Sadly, within a week of the mass shooting here in central Florida, in Orange County, another mass shooting occurred in our neighboring county of Brevard.”
She said the case was “eerily similar” to the one in Orange County, but there was no solicitation for public information from the state attorney there.
“It is not my intention to bring attention to that state attorney, because like me and my office in the case of Keith Moses, there is nothing that he could have done to prevent that incident from happening,” Worrell said. “However, if the governor’s intention is to truly solicit information regarding failures to administer justice, I’m curious as to why he’s been silent about the many mass shootings that have taken place in this state since January. The only logical conclusion is that the governor isn’t concerned with failures to properly administer justice unless it pertains to an elected Democrat who is not aligned with his political philosophies.”
Since taking office, Worrell said there have been concerted efforts to prove she does not prosecute cases, referring to comments by the governor and mentioning her discussion of the sheriff.
She said, as far as cases with drug cases where mandatory minimum sentences were not sought, and that with a set list of specific cases, it was natural to raise questions.
“It’s important though to look at cases in their entirety, look at the work we do in its entirety,” Worrell said. While six cases were highlighted by the Osceola County Sheriff, Worrell said her office had shown “20 cases where we did seek the minimum mandatory sentence” in response because “facts matter.”
Again, the state attorney said prosecutors had to have enough evidence to successfully prove a case beyond reasonable doubt, and if it’s not possible, the law requires them to not go forward.
Addressing concerns over case dismissals, Worrell said she was partnering with the Orlando Police Department to work together to ensure better evidence gathering and collaboration to prevent dismissals over legal sufficiency. Worrell also took issue with how other law enforcement officials had gone to the media instead of simply meeting with her to find solutions.
She promised to continue working to serve the community well, keep them safe, and connect people to resources to reduce recidivism and fight for justice.
A question and answer session followed. The first question was focused on the possibility of seeking death penalty for Moses. Worrell said there was a review process when seeking the death penalty, the policy enacted for the office under her leadership, saying the process was not at that stage yet to make a determination.
Worrell said that while the gun had not been tested for DNA by the sheriff’s office, before the shooting, the gun had been sent to a testing lab after questions to the sheriff’s office by media.
Separately, Worrell said she was considering heading to Tallahassee to advocate for justice reforms, but that she would avoid doing so if it hurt the chances of bills passing that would accomplish the goal.
The state attorney was also asked about the victims’ families regarding the governor’s letter and the case resolution, as well as if the families wanted a death penalty for Moses. She declined to answer, citing the families’ privacy for discussion with her office, though mentioning the attorney for the victims who had spoken about the governor’s comments previously.
Worrell reiterated her hopes for juvenile justice reform and to close loopholes in the system to aid in rehabilitation and prevent recidivism. She also said that if the state attorney’s office worked with law enforcement more often to help them build better cases, dismissals would be less frequent. However, she said she didn’t want to blame other offices or say that some were doing things the wrong way.
“It’s a matter of how we can work together to build better cases. How can I help law enforcement to understand that they need to look beyond probable cause, and to how we can make our case beyond reasonable doubt,” Worrell said.
Going further on the process of how to follow the law and keep the community safe, Worrell said she wanted to keep the streets safer but that the ends should not justify the means, and it has to be done within the legal framework of the state.
“I’m not going to take short cuts, I’m not going to say ‘ok this is a bad guy, you brought this case, I’m going to see what I can do to make it stick,'” Worrell said. “That’s not what the law says, and we’re going to follow the law.”
She also said her office does follow mandatory minimums, but it was imposed more than not, and that some cases are not always justified to have them. Worrell also said this was an issue that was not confined to her office, but a statewide challenge, as far as mandatory minimum sentences.
Asked about age requirements to buy guns, Worrell said the continuing increase of guns “flooding” the streets was “catastrophic” and that she thinks reducing the number of guns was needed to make communities safer, noting that many guns used in crimes were stolen rather than obtained legally.
Summing up the audit issue with the governor’s office, Worrell said the informational packet she would provide showed other state attorneys’ offices that had non-prosecution policies that were not being audited by DeSantis, saying his move against her office specifically was wrong.
“This isn’t about whether or not I follow the law, this isn’t about whether or not my policies are a danger to public safety, this is about the governor wanting to control the politics across this state,” Worrell said. “And quite frankly it’s dangerous, because this is a democracy, not a dictatorship.”