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The End of the Road

How A Tourist Murder Shaped Juvenile Sentencing In Florida

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Illustration by Wilson Sayre

Early in the morning on September 8, 1993, UweRakebrand and his wife, Kathrin, are driving from the Miami airport to a hotel on Miami Beach in their rented red Toyota Corolla. They have just arrived from Germany on a belated honeymoon.

As they approach I-95, the couple's car is bumped from behind. Kathrin had just read a crime brochure explaining what to do in this very type of situation, and Uwe follows its advice: Don’t pull over, it might be a robber.

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Miami Herald clipping from November 11, 1993, when all three suspects in the Rakebrand murder were in custody.

The yellow Ryder moving truck that bumped the Rakebrands then pulls alongside their car. A shot is fired. Uwe dies instantly.

That morning, he became the eighth foreign tourist murdered in Florida in just over a year. His killer was Patsy Jones, a 20-year-old with a long rap sheet.

Uwe's murder was the catalyst of a storm that threatened the fabric of life in South Florida.

Listen to the story:

MEDIA EXPLOSION

The Rakebrand murder turned up the heat on a media blowout locally, nationally and abroad. See some of that media frenzy in a mash-up of news coverage following the 1993 murder.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCE

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Patsy Jones from a Miami Herald article about her arrest.

The question that people were left with in the aftermath of the killings, though, was how -- and even whether the state could stop the Patsy Joneses of Florida before they got a chance to kill someone.

The state devised a way to do that, hoping it would show the world that change was happening in Florida. That crime was getting under control.

Essentially, the state gave prosecutors the power to choose whether to try teenagers as young as 14 as children or as adults, something called "transfer laws."

Soon the state had the most juveniles in jail for life without parole (JLWOP) for non-homicide offenses.

In fact, Florida handed down that sentence for far more crimes than anywhere else in the country -- not just kidnapping and armed robbery, but carjacking and burglary. 

Most JLWOP inmates in Florida have been re-sentenced after the Supreme Court struck down the practice of doling out those types of sentences. The high court cited the Eighth Amendment provision against "cruel and unusual punishment" in its ruling.

Some were released, others got 20 and 30 years, one got 120 years -- whether that’s constitutional is in the courts now.

(Data from 2009 JLWOP report, Public Interest Law Center, Florida State University College of Law)