Treehouse robbery survivor says Franklin Tucker ‘deserves justice’

Posted at 8:28 AM, January 16, 2024

KEY WEST, Fla. (Court TV) — In a phone interview with Court TV Monday night, Paula Belmonte, one of the surviving victims of the deadly treehouse robbery, said the wrong man is on trial for the attack on her and she looks forward to taking the stand in his defense.

paula belmonte and franklin tucker pose in hospital bed

Paula Belmonte and Franklin Tucker. (Franklin Tyrone Tucker)

“This man deserves justice and I won’t stop until he gets justice – it’s my justice,” Belmonte said in a phone call from a hospital room in Florida, where she is being treated for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The phone call was arranged by Franklin Tyrone Tucker, who prosecutors say participated in the 2017 attack on Belmonte in which her throat was slashed and another man, Matthew Bonnett, was stabbed to death.

“Never once did I say it was Tyrone,” Belmonte said. “I’m not letting this go because this is an innocent man.”

Tucker is representing himself at trial on murder, robbery and assault charges for the incident. Monroe County prosecutors say Tucker and codefendant Rory “Detroit” Wilson planned the robbery, recruiting John Travis Johnson as a getaway driver. Travis is expected to testify against Tucker, who maintains he is the target of a flawed and corrupt investigation built on the self-serving statements of Wilson and Johnson.

“Like I said from the first night… it was Detroit and another man I didn’t know,” Belmonte told Court TV. “I’d rot in hell with them if I didn’t speak.”

Belmonte said she knew Tucker from Key West’s Stock Island community, where the incident occurred in a makeshift structure resembling a treehouse that police witnesses in the trial described as a hub of illegal activity.

Tucker said in his opening statement last week that he intends to call Belmonte as a witness in his defense. Judge Mark Jones on Tuesday denied Tucker’s request to let Belmonte testify as soon as possible in the state’s case based on concerns that her health may have taken a turn for the worst.

Tucker acknowledged that Belmonte already gave testimony in a recorded format in case she didn’t make it to the trial. Tucker said Belmonte was entitled as a victim to the chance to testify if she wanted to and if reasonable accommodations could be made to allow for her testimony. Assistant State Attorney Joseph Mansfield objected, expressing doubt that Belmonte was close to death based on Facebook posts she made over the weekend with the defendant. Mansfield also argued that Belmonte’s recorded testimony would suffice. Judge Jones agreed with the state, noting as an aside that he rarely hears defendants cite Marsy’s Law as part of a desire to accommodate a victim.