The Wrong Keith | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


The Wrong Keith

It seemed that the Broward Sheriff's Office had neatly arranged Keith King's future date with the State of Florida's electric chair. Detectives had built a case against the teenager for the murder of one of their own, Deputy Patrick Behan, who was gunned down in 1990. Homicide-unit investigators had a witness who identified King as being at the scene of the crime. Others swore that King and his then-14-year-old codefendant, Tim Brown, had boasted of shooting the cop. And, in the coup de grâce, BSO detectives extracted a confession from King.

The King indictment was the culmination of one of the most intense investigations in Broward history, with as many as 50 deputies and thousands of man-hours involved. Brown, the first to be tried, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without parole. During Brown's trial, assistant state attorney Chuck Morton declared in court that it was King who had coldly pulled the trigger on Behan, whom the prosecutor declared had been killed on a random, drug-addled dare.

But King would never make it to Death Row. Instead, as potential jurors were being chosen to try him in March 1994, Morton decided to cut King a deal. The prosecutor didn't want a trial; he conceded publicly at the time that his case wasn't very strong. That admission was a gross understatement. In fact, the case was in a shambles.

Morton's offer to King confirmed just how sorry the BSO investigation had been: 15 years. And that prison sentence would also cover four other, unrelated felonies -- three sexual batteries and an armed robbery -- King faced at the time that could have put him away for life. In effect, the cop-killing was erased from the board, and King was assured that, with time off for good behavior, he would be a free man before his 25th birthday.

King accepted the offer as a plea of convenience, refusing to admit he murdered Behan. And, with that remarkable deal, the Behan murder case was officially closed.

Until last year, that is, when a former BSO detention deputy named Andrew Hughray Johnson boasted to undercover agents that he had killed the deputy. An extensive BSO investigation that ended this April found insufficient evidence to file charges against Johnson, who now denies any involvement. The new claims prompted Gov. Jeb Bush last week to order the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to review the entire case.

If FDLE does at least a serviceable job, the agency will find its way to the heretofore confidential file of private investigator Randy MacCoy, who worked on King's defense for two years. While evidence contained in public court archives casts considerable doubt on King's guilt, MacCoy's investigation virtually exonerates his former client and completely discredits the BSO investigation.

Deputies' work on the case played out like a movie about bad cops. Several witnesses complained that detectives shackled them to the floor, promised leniency in their own crimes, and coerced them into implicating King in the murder. By the time the trial was set to begin, everyone who had accused King had recanted. King himself claims he was physically abused and manipulated into his confession -- which was full of untenable contradictions. Ultimately, the case against King not only lacks evidence; it also makes no sense.

Some witnesses held fast to their contention that Brown, who is still in prison, had boasted of the murder; MacCoy privately concluded that Brown was likely involved in the killing. In his estimation, another man was much more likely to have been with Brown that night: Keith Maddox, a violent felon now 35 years old and in prison. Maddox, who has never before been publicly named as a suspect, may well be innocent of the murder, but, as MacCoy puts it, "everything kept pointing at him as the perpetrator."

The private investigator's intriguing theory is that detectives didn't just get the wrong man.

They got the wrong Keith.

At 1:42 a.m. on November 13, 1990, while Patrick Behan was sitting in his patrol car in the parking lot of a Circle K store at 3990 W. Hallandale Blvd. in Pembroke Park, someone fired a .38-caliber bullet into his skull. The deputy's blood splattered onto the report he was writing on a theft of cigarettes. There are no known witnesses, but forensic evidence shows that he was shot at near point-blank range through his partially open driver's-side window. The bullet pierced Behan's left hand, which was raised in defense, before it struck his face.

The slain deputy was by all accounts an upstanding and decent person. An extensive investigation into Behan's life found that he was a clean-living man whose chief goal was to start a family with his new wife.

KEEP NEW TIMES BROWARD-PALM BEACH FREE... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

Latest Stories