By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
The trial of a man who is accused of brutally murdering his cellmate in a Florida prison has been delayed after The Miami Herald recently raised concerns over how officials handled the investigation of the death, which may have been a set up.
This past week The Miami Herald reported there are a lot of unanswered questions about how Ricky Martin—an inmate from Naples—died while being watched by prison guards.
According to the Herald,
There is no question who fatally beat Martin at the Panhandle’s Santa Rosa Correctional Institution on March 30, 2012. It was his cellmate of only a few hours: Shawn “Jiggaman” Rogers, a 6-foot-4, 210-pound inmate with gang ties and a long history of attacking and beating other inmates.
The questions that haven’t been answered, however, by the Florida Department of Corrections are almost as disturbing as the grisly way in which Martin died. Who decided to put a violent lifer who bragged he had nothing to lose in a cell with a skinny young con serving out his final months? And why didn’t corrections officers stop the attack?
McKinley Lewis, spokesman for the department, said the decision to place the inmates together was made by the prison’s security and classification officers.
Lewis notes that “neither the [Florida Department of Law Enforcement] nor the DOC inspectors assigned identified any violation of Florida law or department procedures.”
But FDLE never investigated Martin’s death. Gretl Plessinger, a spokeswoman for FDLE, said that other than technical assistance in the form of lab analysis and evidence collection, the case was handled entirely by the Florida Department of Corrections.
In letters to his mother, to a girlfriend and to the judge, Rogers offered no remorse and said that it was well known by prison officials that he was capable of doing what he did.
“It’s no military secret that I have been one of the most vicious and violent prisoners in the entire state of Florida,” Rogers, 34, wrote the judge in his case, set to go to trial this week. He asked to be put to death.
The newspaper, which has been looking into troublesome deaths in Florida’s prisons, did a thorough review of this case.
Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown reviewed “hundreds of pages of court and prison records, including crime scene photographs, the autopsy report, video from the prison’s fixed-wing and hand-held cameras and 77 digitally recorded audio interviews,” according to the newspaper. Brown wrote that “Martin was murdered despite his repeated pleas to the corrections department’s inspector general for protection and later, shortly before he died, to rank-and-file corrections officers.”
Almost 30 inmates, who were in the prison wing during the murder, swore in affidavits that they warned prison guards something was happening in that cell. According to the Herald, those inmates “told officers John Beaudry and Jacob Denmon that Martin was in trouble and they needed to help him.” However, the guards ignored the warnings and instead left the issue for the guards on the next shift.
But, Martin was killed before any staff at the prison intervened.
According to the Herald, there are many signs that point to a possible set-up.
Prison records show that Martin, who was serving a six-year sentence for grand theft and armed burglary, had been at Santa Rosa for about 36 hours before he was found brain dead.
Martin, a high school dropout whose parents were murdered when he was 2 years old, was transferred from the Northwest Florida Reception Center, another maximum-security facility in Washington County.
Four months before his transfer, in November 2011, Martin had filed a grievance asking the department’s inspector general to place him under protection because his life was being threatened. He claimed that he was labeled a “snitch” because he had reported to prison officials that guards at the reception center had been running a “fight club” in chow hall.
The corrections officers, whose names are in the complaint, “told me that I was a snitch and told inmates about the incident; now I have inmates and officers after me,” Martin wrote.
He also claimed that one of the officers had set him up by planting a knife in his cell.
The inspector general denied his petition — his second — for protection.
Since the murder, the Herald reports there has been no investigation of the guards’ actions. In fact, some staff who were on duty that night were even promoted.
Besides obtaining video and photo records of the grisly murder, the Herald’s 4,000 word story included Ricky Martin and Shawn Rogers’ full inmate records, criminal histories—as well FDLE’s evidence list and lab reports from the crime scene, and the 37-page unredacted investigation by the Florida Department of Corrections’ inspector general.
The story also included 77 recorded witness interviews. According to the Herald, “with some exceptions, most of the statements provided similar details about how Martin was killed and the events that led up to his death.”
Following this exhaustive report from the Herald, Roger’s trial was postponed.
A judge in Pensacola granted an uncontested motion by the defense to postpone the trial, which was set to start Monday. Both the defense and the prosecution were caught by surprise on the eve of the trial by information that was reported by the newspaper.
In a letter on file with the court, the defendant, Shawn Rogers, 34, confessed to killing 24-year-old Ricky Martin, who was beaten senseless within hours of being bunked with Rogers at Santa Rosa on March 30, 2012. In the letter, the lifer with a history of abusing other inmates calls himself one of the most vicious and violent prisoners in Florida.
For reasons not explained, corrections officials placed Rogers in cell D1-117 with Martin, an inmate serving out the last two years of a six-year term, primarily for stealing a stash of guns and selling them. The much smaller Martin also had a history of disciplinary reports in prison, but mostly for cutting himself with razors, and for disruptive behavior.
According to a motion filed by the defense, “Rogers’ attorney, Martin Lester, claims that Martin’s grievance wasn’t furnished to the court by the DOC and that other relevant evidence might not have been provided as well,” the Herald reports.
The chief of Florida’s Department of Corrections recently resigned and was replaced by a “DOC-lifer.” The head of the FDLE is also being replaced for reportedly unrelated reasons.