May 13, 2008 — -- Tallahassee police officials are on the defensive after the killing of a young Florida woman who was serving as a confidential narcotics and weapons informant in a sting operation that ended with her death.
The body of Rachel Morningstar Hoffman, 23, was found Friday in rural Taylor County, southeast of Tallahassee, after a two-day search that began when she decided to meet Deneilo Bradshaw, 23, and Andrea Green, 25, at a location that was not the agreed-upon spot for a staked-out drug and weapons buy.
Authorities were planning to arrest Bradshaw and Green after the pair unloaded 1,500 pills of ecstasy, crack cocaine and a gun to Hoffman, who agreed to work undercover for police in exchange for possible leniency in an April drug charge that came one year after she was involved in a marijuana bust.
Instead, Hoffman left the public park where the deal was supposed to occur and met Bradshaw and Green somewhere else, a choice that Tallahassee police spokesman David McCranie said made her vulnerable to attack.
"Safety is paramount," McCranie told ABC News. "The investigator said 'Don't do it.' We call these things off all the time. But Rachel went ahead and met Green and Bradshaw and that ultimately lead to her murder."
Tallahassee police were joined by the Florida State Department of Law Enforcement and sheriff's offices in four counties. They recovered her car about 30 miles south of Tallahassee and then, with tips from the community, tracked down Bradshaw and Green near Orlando.
The two were arrested without incident and charged with kidnapping and armed robbery. After interviews with investigators from Tallahassee, the pair reportedly led authorities to Hoffman's body. They remain behind bars at the Leon County Jail and are expected to face additional murder charges in Hoffman's death.
McCranie declined to say exactly when and how Hoffman was killed, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
Hoffman, meanwhile, was buried this afternoon after a funeral service at a synagogue. In a family statement released to the media, she was described as a recent college graduate from Florida State University who planned to attend culinary school and lived her life by the words of the Beatles' song "All You Need Is Love."
But it has been descriptions of Hoffman by Tallahassee police, as well as a reluctance to answer certain questions, that have left her family heartbroken and have riled defense attorney Johnny Devine.
"We've been asking questions since the get-go as to what happened that night and the Tallahassee Police Department is trying to point the arrow in every other direction," he said. "They took a defensive step from the start."
Authorities began the process Friday of explaining how Hoffman became a police informant, a relationship initiated when police executed a search warrant at her apartment April 17 and recovered more than 200 grams of marijuana as well as ecstasy.
Hoffman was already part of a drug court program after a 2007 traffic stop in which police found enough marijuana to arrest her.
As police wrote up the probable cause affidavit, McCranie said, an officer offered Hoffman, whom he described as "very bright" and "very talented," a chance to potentially reduce the punishment for the new drug case against her by acting as an informant.
It's a deal, McCranie said, that's offered to "countless" drug defendants. "A lot of people say 'no,'" he added.
Hoffman took the deal, however, which McCranie said did not guarantee that the charges would be dropped against her. "We're not saying we're dropping the charges," he said. "Whatever you can provide, the state attorney will decide how to balance your assistance with your crime."
Hoffman was never booked into jail after the raid on her apartment. She began to work with a Tallahassee police investigator and reportedly offered Green and Bradshaw as possible arrest targets.
McCranie said that police did not know the two men. Police set up a meeting at a park May 7 at 7 p.m. and set up what they considered a safe and secure area to watch the deal unfold. Hoffman's police liaison, however, got a call from the informant who said that the location of the drug and gun deal was moving, per the sellers' request.
He instructed her not to go, McCranie said, but she did not listen.
McCranie said he was not sure why a gun was involved in the deal. He also said that Hoffman, as a confidential informant, had received some instructions, which he declined to describe, but not necessarily training.
"We're asking her to do what she already does," he said. "She's involved in the drug trade. She's already familiar with how to act in these cases."
In addition to the 2007 drug charge, authorities also released information about an underage drinking charge Hoffman faced in 2003, as well as multiple instances in which she was targeted by thieves -- crimes he said are often related to drugs.
"They're basically pointing the finger at Rachel," said Devine, who served as Hoffman's attorney after the 2007 bust, in an interview with ABC News. "What does her underage drinking charge have anything to do with what happened to her?"
Hoffman wanted to know why, as her attorney, he did not know about this offer from police -- something McCranie said was not uncommon.
"They're asking her to do something that would put her in a life or death situation," Devine said. "I have never had any time where the police department has not called me to tell me this is what's happening."
Further, Devine said, Hoffman did not have any previous experience with firearms, but authorities knew from the terms of the deal that she would be confronted by a pair of men -- one of whom had a violent criminal past -- who were carrying at least one gun.
"She had never worked as an undercover agent," he said. "She had no experience or training in this matter."
Finally, Hoffman challenged police reluctance to at least share with her family members some details from the murder scene to allow them to grieve.
"They are left to speculate and guess about the cause of her death," he said. "Was she tortured? Was she beaten?"
While the police continue to defend the decisions that drew Hoffman into her role as an informant, even William "Willie" Meggs, the state's attorney in Tallahassee who will ultimately prosecute Green and Bradshaw, said that his office should have known about the April raid at Hoffman's apartment and her subsequent deal with authorities.
"We would have liked to have known and we did not," Meggs told ABC News, stressing that as a participant in the drug court, Hoffman already had a relationship with a case worker in the program and should not have any kind of drug interaction involving police without his office knowing.
Sandi Copes, a spokesman for Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, confirmed to ABC News that his office will conduct an independent review of "internal policies and procedures" used by the Tallahassee police involving informants.
McCranie, who repeatedly said that Hoffman is the victim of a murder, said that when the investigation is complete, two killers will be charged with murder and the public will see that the Tallahassee Police Department did its job.
"Rachel made some mistakes, but she is the victim," he said. "What killed her is Green, Bradshaw and drugs. That's what killed Rachel."