June 11, 2008 -- A grand jury is being convened that will investigate the controversial death of a 23-year-old Florida woman who was killed while acting as a confidential police informant in a sting operation last month.
Lawyers for the state and for the two men facing possible murder charges will be allowed to submit questions for potential jurors to the judge, but will not get to question them directly before they are sworn in Wednesday.
The panel is expected to look into the case of Rachel Hoffman, whom Tallahassee city police recruited to work as a confidential informant in April after raiding her house and reportedly finding marijuana and ecstasy.
The police have said they offered Hoffman a deal: if she worked as a confidential informant, the state attorney would "decide how to balance your assistance with your crime."
But State Attorney Willie Meggs has said his office was not informed of the deal, and it was inappropriate for police to offer such an arrangement without a prosecuting attorney involved.
Lance Block, an attorney hired by Hoffman's father after his daughter's death, said flatly he doesn't believe the deal went down the way the police have described. According to friends of Hoffman's in whom she confided, Block said, police told her she faced as much as four years in prison if she did not accept the offer.
"They told her 'it will all go away,' if you help us get some bad guys off the street," Block said.
The Tallahassee police did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.
Drug court officials have criticized the police's use of Hoffman as an informant. At the time they searched her house, Hoffman was in a court-ordered drug treatment program after police found 26 grams of marijuana in her car.
"It is my strong preference that the people who are in drug court not be around this kind of thing," state prosecutor Owen McCaul told the Tallahassee Democrat. And a local public defender told the paper there was an "informal practice" that people in drug court don't act as informants, "the thinking being that someone in drug court is trying to get away from drug activity and drug use."
Hoffman was never booked into jail after the raid on her apartment. She began to work with a Tallahassee police investigator, and police have said she offered two men, Andrea Green and Deneilo Bradshaw, as possible arrest targets.
Attorney Block said Rachel had no prior relationship with the men, as he believes the police have suggested, but learned of them through an intermediary, who told her about them while she was assisting the police.
Police have confirmed they gave Hoffman $13,000 in cash and set her up to buy 1,500 hits of ecstasy, cocaine and a gun from Green and Bradshaw. A police spokesman has said he was not sure why a gun was involved.
The deal was set to occur on May 7 at 7 p.m. in an area chosen by police. But the alleged dealers changed the location twice, according to police. Police told Hoffman the first change was safe, but when Hoffman called police to tell them the two men had chosen a new location, her liaison reportedly told her not to follow them.
Hoffman did not respond. The police say Hoffman ended the call, but her family and friends dispute that, according to Block. The semi-rural area in which she was driving is known to have spotty cellular coverage, the lawyer said. Around the same time the call ended, the wireless listening device Hoffman had on her stopped working, according to a police report.
When police eventually arrived at the second meeting site, they found one of her flip-flops, a spent bullet round and skid marks, according to the police report. They did not find Hoffman, her car, the two men or the $13,000 cash.
Police eventually arrested Green and Bradshaw, who reportedly led them to Hoffman's body. The two have been charged with armed robbery – a kidnapping charge brought against them has been dropped. The men have pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors before the grand jury are expected to pursue first-degree murder charges against the two.
"Rachel made some mistakes, but she is the victim," a police spokesman told ABC News two weeks ago. "What killed her is Green, Bradshaw and drugs. That's what killed Rachel."
Attorney Block disagreed. "It was a bad plan" the police had drawn up, he said, with Rachel in the middle. "The execution was even worse."
David Schoetz contributed to this story.