FL v. Franklin Tyrone Tucker: Treehouse Murder Trial

Posted at 5:10 PM, January 25, 2024 and last updated 7:32 PM, January 25, 2024

KEY WEST, Fla. (Court TV) — The judge was forced to declare a mistrial in the case of a Florida man, representing himself at trial, who was accused of taking part in a robbery that turned deadly after the jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict.

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Franklin “Ty” Tucker was charged with robbery, homicide, aggravated assault and battery for a robbery that led to the death of Matthew Bonnett and injured Paula Belmonte at a property known as “The Treehouse.”

After deliberating for more than five hours, the jury told the judge it could not reach a verdict. The judge gave them an Allen Charge, meaning they were to return and try again. An hour later the jury returned to say it could not reach a verdict and the judge declared a mistrial.

ty tucker speaks to the jury

Franklin “Ty” Tucker, who is representing himself at trial, delivers his opening statement Thursday, Jan. 11, 2024. (Court TV)

In court documents obtained by Court TV, investigators said Tucker went to The Treehouse on Nov. 17, 2017, with Rory “Detroit” Wilson to rob Belmonte. Police said the pair had brought a knife with a plan of stealing her purse, but wound up fighting with others who happened to be at the property at the same time. Prosecutors said that Bonnett came up the stairs while the robbery was in progress and “a struggle ensued leaving Matthew Bonnett with a broken nose and five stab wounds that resulted in his death.”

Over the course of their investigation, detectives learned that Tucker and Wilson might have been sent to rob Belmonte as retaliation for a drug debt owed to another Anathea Clay, aka “April.”

While much of the witness testimony tied Wilson to the scene, including a lineup where Belmonte identified him as her attacker, a third man told police about Tucker’s connection. John “Travis” Johnson, who was allegedly hired to drive the getaway car, told police that Tucker had initiated the robbery after learning that Belmonte had a large sum of money at “The Treehouse.” Tucker and Wilson asked Johnson to drive them, and he agreed to do so for a tank of gas. Johnson told police that after he heard one of the victims shout for police, he drove away without waiting for the others.

portion of handwritten letter

A portion of a handwritten letter from Franklin Tucker to the judge in his case, dated Sept. 24, 2019. (Court Evidence)

Tucker had been represented by attorneys for much of the process leading up to his trial, but filed a motion on Sept. 20, 2023, requesting to be allowed to proceed without attorneys. He asked to be either allowed to continue “Pro Se” or to allow him to hire an experienced attorney to assist him in self-representation. In the motion, he referenced “irreconcilable differences” with his current attorney.

“The Defendant has no interest in negotiating a plea deal with the State and the State has yet to express any interest in dismissing the charges, so trial seems to be inevitable. The Defendant believes that the expenses of this case have already been inordinately high and has no desire to continue paying outrageous sums of money to see it resolved.”

Tucker has accused the prosecution and even the judge of working against him, and a letter sent to the judge on Sept. 24, 2019, accused the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office of masterminding the robbery with a confidential informant. In the letter, Tucker told the judge: “This is the United States and by all accounts you are a criminal involved in a much larger criminal enterprise. Will you ever be prosecuted? Probably not but that’s not going to stop me from fighting you. I am an innocent man and I know I will never get a fair trial in Monroe County. I know the only hope I have is if some outside agency decides to shut this circus down.”

Wilson was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole on Dec. 21, 2022, after a jury convicted him of charges of robbery and homicide. Wilson is appealing the decision.

In a statement to Court TV following the mistrial, State Attorney Dennis Ward reiterated his intention to retry the case, saying, “This case is of great importance, not only because of the crimes’ severe nature but also due to its impact on the victims, their families and our community. Our commitment to seeking justice for Matthew Bonnett and Paula Belmonte remains unwavering. … A retrial is necessary to provide a clear resolution to this case. We owe it to the victims and the community to ensure that justice is served.”


DAY 10 – 1/25/24

DAY 9 – 1/24/24

DAY 8 – 1/23/24

DAY 7 – 1/22/24

  • The jury watched Paula Belmont’s taped deposition.
    • Belmonte described the robbery, saying Detroit ran at her, jumped on top of her, put the knife to her neck and said to give her what she had “or I’m gonna kill you.”
    • Belmonte testified that she didn’t know who the second person who attacked her was, but that she knew it was not Franklin Tucker.
  • The jury was sent home early after Tucker failed to have any witnesses present ready to testify.
  • WATCH: Treehouse Murder Trial: Day 7 Recap

DAY 6 – 1/19/24

  • Tucker was almost late to his trial again on Friday, one day after he was excoriated by Judge Mark H. Jones for being tardy on numerous occasions throughout the trial. Court was scheduled to begin at 9:15 am Friday, and Tucker walked in just seconds before the clock struck 9:16 am. Outside the courthouse, Tucker told Court TV he actually jumped out of his Lyft ride and ran the rest of the way to the courthouse to avoid a bench warrant, which Judge Mark H. Jones vowed to issue if Tucker caused any more delays in the proceedings.
  • Tucker’s oral argument for judgment of acquittal Friday morning was more of an airing of grievances than a cogent legal presentation.
  • Extensive efforts by the defendant to accommodate the Zoom testimony of Paula Belmonte on Friday were unsuccessful. Her attempted testimony was stricken from the record (the now-stricken testimony included disparaging remarks about one of the prosecutors, Joe Mansfield)
  • WATCH: Treehouse Murder Trial: Day 6 Recap

DAY 5 – 1/18/24

  • Judge excoriated Tucker for being late to court and threatened to have him arrested if he was late again.
  • John “Travis” Johnson concludes his testimony, as the state repeatedly objected to questions asked by Tucker during his cross-examination.
  • Medical examiner Dr. Steckbauer takes the stand, describing the injuries that killed Bonnett.
  • A DNA expert testified that Tucker’s DNA was not found on the knife and that there were no samples collected to which he was identified as a potential contributor.
  • WATCH: Treehouse Murder Trial: Recap Day 5

DAY 4 – 1/17/24

  • Travis Johnson, one of the prosecution’s star witnesses, said he agreed to act as a getaway driver for Tucker and Rory Wilson in an armed robbery at the Treehouse for $50 in gas money, but ended up leaving the pair behind when he saw someone flee the Treehouse yelling for police.
    • Johnson said he accepted a plea deal in 2022 that dropped his murder charge and gave him a sentence of time served (5 years) plus five years of probation that would end after he testifies.
    • Johnson described himself as an “outsider” to the plot who went along hoping to score drugs or money for drugs.
    • Johnson admitted to hiding Paula Belmonte’s backpack in the closet of a home he was fixing up.
    • Johnson said that Tucker snatched the backpack from the Treehouse, but could not explain how it ended up in his truck.
    • Johnson agreed with the prosecution that he “vacillated” before admitting to his role, saying he was weighing the consequences of coming clean.
  • On cross, Tucker played Johnson’s police interview/confession in an attempt to suggest that Johnson adopted police’s version that cast him as the would-be getaway driver instead of a principal perpetrator.
  • WATCH: Treehouse Murder Trial: Recap Day 4

DAY 3 – 1/16/24

  • A hearing on the admissibility of video and audio evidence the defendant wants to use to impeach (undermine the credibility of) former detective Danielle Malone ended with some issues resolved and others up in the air until Malone resumes cross-examination on Jan. 17.
  • Judge Mark Jones denied the defendant’s emergency motion to let surviving victim Paula Belmonte testify remotely for the defense during the state’s case via Zoom based on the belief that her health has taken a turn for the worst and she may not live until the defense case.
  • The State has 3 more witnesses left to testify: Travis Johnson, medical examiner, DNA analyst.
  • Tucker joined Court TV with his estranged wife to talk about his decision to represent himself pro see.

DAY 2 – 1/12/24

  • Representing himself, Tucker spent much of Friday picking apart evidence that former Det. Danielle Malone used in the affidavit to arrest and indict him.
    • Prosecutors repeatedly objected as the questioning became redundant and argumentative at times. The judge overruled most of the objections and noted at the end of the day that he was giving Tucker significant leeway.
    • On direct, Malone spent less than 30 minutes introducing surveillance video that prosecutors claim shows Tucker and codefendant Rory Wilson walking to the crime scene from Johnson’s truck.
    • On cross, Malone agreed with Tucker that without his codefendants’ statements implicating him — and disregarding the totality of the circumstances — there was no other evidence connecting him to the attack when she wrote the affidavit.
    • WATCH: Treehouse Murder Trial: Defense Cross-Examines Deputy
    • Tucker pressed Malone on why the police never arrested Anathea Clay, the woman believed to have set up the robbery as payback against Paula Belmonte for stiffing Clay during a drug deal.
      • Malone testified, “She never rose to the level of murder suspect.”
  • Outside the presence of the jury, both sides argued about whether evidence Tucker wants to use to impeach prosecution witnesses can be admitted.
  • The judge ruled that victim Paula Belmonte would be allowed to testify remotely from the hospital.
  • WATCH: Treehouse Murder Trial: Day 2 Recap

DAY 1 – 1/11/24

  • Both sides delivered opening statements
  • Acting as his own attorney, defendant Franklin Ty Tucker proclaimed his innocence and accused authorities of fabricating evidence to build a case around him
  • Surviving victim Rodger Raugett offered a somewhat convoluted but steadfast account of two masked suspects barging into the makeshift treehouse where he and his friend Paula Belmonte were drinking and smoking crack. He said one of the suspects knocked him out while the other demanded “money or drugs” from Belmonte and stabbed her, then attacked property owner Matthew Bonnett before fleeing
  • A rather tense exchange occurred outside the jury’s presence: Assistant State Attorney Joseph Mansfield accused the defendant of giving him a “threatening look” during arguments over the admissibility of statements from the arrest affidavit. Mansfield told the judge that Tucker “keeps looking at me” and “interjecting… little comments” that Mansfield deemed unprofessional. The judge warned Tucker to direct objections toward to him and reminded Tucker that lawyers spend years practicing learning rules and procedures. They are more “subtle than you,” the judge said
  • WATCH: Treehouse Murder Trial: Day 1 Recap