What if a fitness entrepreneur worth $20 million married her homeless, house-arrested high school sweetheart who faces life in prison?

And a tainted murder investigation dubbed “the treehouse murder” was gaining public attention in Key West, Florida; what if it was her husband who was suspected of committing the homicide?

“What if?”

That was the question Cross-Fit co-founder, Lauren Jenai couldn’t get out of her head.

In the 1980s, a mutual friend introduced Franklin Tyrone Tucker to the recently-divorced Cross-Fit queen.

They became high school friends.

 But Jenai never imagined she’d end up marrying him later in life. 

 Now, the nagging ‘what if’ question repeatedly looped through her worried mind. 

She couldn’t stop questioning herself about the situation her now-husband Ty was now facing.

“The things I couldn’t get out of my head with Ty was, ‘What if this happened to me?” Jenai recalled in an interview with the New York Post.

“I thought, ‘We grew up in the same neighborhood. It could happen to me. What if somebody framed me for murder and nobody was there to help.’ I couldn’t live with myself knowing that I had the potential to help — and didn’t.”

But that’s just what those accusing Tucker did. 

They had the potential to help. 

But didn’t. 

Not only that, some in power had the potential to help, but harmed his case instead. 

Blatant corruption and abuse by the system steamrolled his notion of fair treatment.

Tucker had enough by the time a year had passed.

Innocent until proven guilty, he thought.

But those in power had it backward. 

They wanted him guilty.

Maybe the powers that be could not be certain and they apparently couldn’t prove guilt. 

But they surely wanted it for some reason.

That much was obvious.

It wasn’t just one detective; all of them were in on it: the prosecutor, the detective, the captain, and the entire department.

That much was now apparent to Tucker.

INTIMIDATION AFTER 20 MONROE COUNTY SHERIFF DEPUTIES PACK THE COURT ROOM?

On October 3, 2019, Tucker’s defense attorney, Cara Higgins, wrote an email to Patrick McCullah, MCSO’s general counsel, titled Tucker Status Conference 20 MSCO Officers.

“We had a 30-minute scheduling conference set before Judge Jones today. Both the state and the defense had motions that needed to be set for hearing and the Court thought it best to have the lawyers come in with their calenders to set dates,” she explained in the letter. 

“Imagine my surprise when I walked into the Courtroom and counted 20 of your officers seated in the Courtroom. They sat on the State’s side of the Courtroom. Were those 20 officers there to try and intimidate me and/or my client? The Court? Was this in retaliation for my Chapter 119 request? Retaliation for my client’s internal affairs complaint?” Higgins asked, before adding she would get to the bottom of it.

https://www.scribd.com/document/487109631/HigginsLetter-Converted

TUCKER FIGHTS BACK

Higgins’s email statement about an internal affairs complaint referred to a complaint Tucker had written to internal affairs less than a month prior using the only means he had: a pen and paper.

In a hand-written complaint to the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office Internal Affairs on September 15, 2019, Tucker addressed the department by outlining four violations and crimes being committed against him.

Tucker’s states his beliefs that officers may have already been aware of the violations that he outlined within it before he wrote the letter to internal affairs. 

Tucker made the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office brass aware that he believed the department was engaging in corrupt behavior.

Now they knew Tucker was keenly aware of the abuse against him after he outlined four major points he felt concerned about.

One, they were refusing to investigate Tucker’s recollection of the murder timeline and any evidence in his defense.

Meanwhile, as they ignored evidence that could prove his innocence, MSCO detectives as well as MSCO prosecutor Colleen Dunne also refused to investigate another suspect.

Tucker claims evidence shows that that suspect more than likely committed the crime.

https://www.scribd.com/document/485907208/Ty1-Pg-Converted

He outlined how he felt the way the investigation had been conducted was unsatisfactory even to his untrained eye.

“Even cursory observations by a layman,” he wrote. “Can find serious problems with this investigation from its very outset.

“Failure to secure the crime scene, failure to secure witness, failure to detain a suspect, evidence and crime scene contamination, etc., etc., etc.,” he wrote. 

Secondly, Tucker added criminal misconduct to his complaint.

Maybe not as obvious as the sloppy investigation, he explained, and maybe he was unable to identify every officer involved in the blatant abuse of justice against him. 

But he argued charges against Captain Penny Phelps, Matthew Pitcher, David Fernandez, David Smith, and Danielle Mallone could all be proven with certainty. 

Tucker wrote that the above-mentioned officers “engaged in a broad spectrum of misconduct including filing false police reports, perjury, witness tampering, evidence tampering, manufacturing evidence, destruction of evidence, coercion, conspiracy, and false arrest.”

Evidence and records show he’s correct, on all counts, the officers engaged in a broad spectrum of misconduct that amounted to crimes.

Thirdly, Tucker complained that the MSCO’s participation in witness tampering and manufacturing witnesses were the biggest issues and obvious examples of criminal misconduct that violated his civil rights as well as those who were truthful and refused to say what officers wanted to hear.

Fourthly, he complained of how officers inside the jail strategically placed an informant near his cell.

The informant would later give false testimony about Tucker confessing to the crime in exchange for favors with his criminal charges.

Fighting this kind of corruption from within the confines of jailhouse walls would be no easy task…

HELP FROM THE OUTSIDE

Two months later, Jenai, who says she’s spent upwards of $`1 million in legal fees, came to his rescue, posting his bail. 

A golden opportunity gave Tucker the big break and time he needed.

Since then, the state’s case has fallen apart. 

A preponderance of evidence mounting in his favor indicates more and more that he’s the victim of a tainted murder investigation

Without any reasonable doubt, authorities in Monroe County have maliciously victimized him.

The question is why?

LOVE BRINGS LIFE TO THE LOVED ONE

Jenai’s months of research uncovering mountains of evidence and ethical violations — from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Department’s investigation to the prosecutor’s Brady violation — reveal shocking levels of unethical abuse and corruption, strengthening her commitment to Ty’s innocence.

Cara Higgins, Tucker’s attorney, argues the state’s case relies solely on Tucker’s confession to the crime.

The only problem with that?

Naeem Jackson, the state’s witness who claimed Tucker confessed to committing a crime, was uncovered to be a jailhouse informant.

Jackson, who had been snitching for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and had worked dozens of cases in exchange for dismissing criminal charges pending against him, claimed to know about the treehouse murder.

In a video interview with Jackson, you can hear him discussing his wishes to have a domestic battery charge disposed of in exchange for his testimony about an alleged jailhouse confession from Tucker.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ma1MwxLwuTk

However, according to his internal affairs complaint, Tucker was aware Jackson was being planted in the same jail cell as an informant and knew Jackson was attempting to set him up.

He never made any confessions.

“I didn’t do it,” he recalled.

Jenai emphatically agrees.

“He’s not a murderer. I know him. He’s not somebody who would do that kind of thing,” Jenai told Inside Edition in a November 10, 2019 interview.

 

THE ALLEGATIONS

Investigators for the State of Florida allege co-defendants Rory Hank Wilson, John Travis Johnson, and Tucker planned to rob Paula Belmonte inside of the treehouse after hearing a rumor about a large amount of cash inside.

Tyrone and Rory were allegedly wearing gloves and masks, according to the Blue Paper

Bonnet left his home to investigate after hearing a commotion in the treehouse. 

Bonnet lost his life as a result of multiple stab wounds, according to police. 

A lucky female survivor suffered a cut-throat during the attack> 

Johnson, the alleged getaway driver, was waiting outside in his truck.

The official police version alleges Tucker and Rory were wearing gloves and masks.

One had a knife; one had a billy club.

Police allege that when Bonnet came down the stairs, he surprised them.

They say that’s when Tyrone chased him down the stairs and fatally stabbed him.

Tucker’s accomplices ratted him out, which led to his arrest.

And while in jail, prosecutors say he bragged without remorse about his crime to another inmate, Naeem Jackson, who reported it to sheriff’s detective Matthew Pitcher.

But that turned out to be a lie.

Captain Penny Phelps and Pitcher were investigating the crime that became known as the Tree House Murder.

That’s the story Monroe County prosecutor Colleen Dunne tells, at least. 

And what a hateful story to tell.

AN ILLUSION OF JUSTICE?

We last reported about the Treehouse Murder in November 2019. 

Allegations of unethical and criminal conduct by Colleen Dunne now taint her legal career. 

The allegations stem from a separate, attempted murder case.

The Florida Bar disciplined Dunne with a $1,200 fine; and had her license suspended for a year for hiding evidence from the defense in an attempted murder case, and for lying to defense counsel, according to the Florida Record.

Now barred from practicing law, Dunne is no longer an employee of the Florida State’s Attorney’s Office.

Additionally, on September 28, 2020, Tucker’s attorney Cara Higgins deposed the only surviving victim, Paula Belmonte, who corroborated Tucker’s version of events.

Neither the State nor Belmonte even mentions Tucker’s name during his deposition by the state.

The State never bothered asking Belmonte to identify Tucker.

During a deposition by Higgins, Belmonte’s statements indicate Tucker isn’t the suspect in the Treehouse Murder case.

“It’s not Tyrone,” Belmonte recalled telling Detective Pitcher, according to an October 23 transcript.

“That’s why kept saying, ‘Are you sure?'”

“And he kept saying ‘Yes, they were sure,” she explained.

The detective insists Belmonte did not know Tyrone like they knew Tyrone.

“At one point, l was almost believing it, because you’re supposed to believe the police, right?”

THE TREEHOUSE TAKE AWAY

Where did the idea Belmonte adopted — the idea that we’re “supposed to just believe police” — come from?

In our system, a level of skepticism should be applied to officers’ allegations. 

Skeptical to the level of innocent until proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt.

Tasked with being keepers of the peace in society, police often claim they’re merely protecting and serving the public.

But how peaceful are they if they frame an innocent man for a serious crime in a civilized society?

Is that an example of peacekeeping?

Gore Vidal once said, “We must always remember that the police are recruited from the criminal classes.”

While most of us would say hating police for being polite is not the answer, fearing and distrusting what they’re capable of like we fear and distrust criminals, maybe a better approach than believing police because we’re “supposed” to.

By Ben Keller

Ben has been an independent journalist since 2013 covering issues from police buse, civil rights, the so-called child protection system as well as political corruption. Before becoming a journlist, Ben spent hs young adult life in sales before attending the University of Texas where he studied literature and philosophy and participated in on-campus activities such as animal rights activism, which later inspired him to become involved in activism for holding various levels of government accountable. You can email Ben @ benkkeller@yahoo.com

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