Coconut Grove socialite Joyce Cohen will stay in prison much longer in ’86 killing of developer husband


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

TALLAHASSEE Joyce Cohen, the notorious Coconut Grove socialite convicted of murdering her wealthy developer husband in 1986, may spend the rest of her days in prison, after Florida’s parole board extended her release date.

Cohen, now 62, received a sentence of 25 years to life in 1989, and would have been eligible for release beginning in 2014. But the Florida Parole Commission voted Wednesday to set a target release date of April, 2048 on Wednesday. She would be 97 years old by then.

A parole examiner who interviewed Cohen initially recommended a target parole date of 2023, but after hearing from the children of Stanley Cohen, the commission went for a much tougher penalty.

“It was a vicious, violent murder that robbed our family of its patriarch,” said Gerri Helfman, Stanley Cohen’s daughter.

In a sensational trial, Joyce Cohen was convicted of hiring hitmen to kill her husband in his sleep in 1986. Prosecutors said she feared that Stanley Cohen, a successful real estate developer, would divorce her and that she would lose access to his money.

The trial gripped the city, each day bringing fresh revelations of fast living, drugs and opulence.

A jailhouse informant named Frank Zuccarello confessed to taking part in the shooting, and said Joyce Cohen was behind the plot. Prosecutors used Zuccarello’s testimony and evidence from a gun found near the Cohen home to get a conviction.

Joyce Cohen was not in court on Wednesday, but had two friends testify in support of an earlier release date, with both pointing out that others involved in the murder had already been released from prison. They also raised questions about the initial conviction.

“I think it’s worth noting, and I find it inconceivable, that Joyce is the only person involved in this crime that is still in prison,” said Lynn Esco, of Miami. “The triggerman and his accomplice were released years ago. And the jailhouse snitch never served a day for this crime.”

James Lee May, of Daytona Beach, said his childhood friend should be released from prison and that “mistakes were made” by investigators.

But Tena Pate, parole commission chair, made it clear that those arguments would not have an impact on the release date decision.

“We’re not here to retry the case,” Pate said. “She stands convicted of the crime.”

The commission cited several aggravating factors — including Joyce Cohen’s attempts to cover up the murder — in their sentencing decision. However, they did give themselves an option to make changes to her parole date in 2020.

Other than May and Esco, no other friends or relatives testified on Cohen’s behalf during Wednesday’s hearing.

Stanley Cohen’s son, Gary Cohen, and Helfman both spoke at the hearing. Each fought back tears as they asked the commission to keep their former stepmother locked up for the rest of her life. They described their father as a philanthropic and caring man who came from nothing and built a successful career in development.

He was 52 years old when he died.

“After a difficult childhood, Joyce met her guardian angel, my father, her generous benefactor—who pulled her out of poverty, gave her love, stability and support for a dozen years” said Helfman. “And she repaid him with four bullets in the back of his head in the prime of his life.”

Miami Herald reporter David Ovalle contributed to this report. Toluse Olorunnipa can be reached at or on Twitter at @ToluseO.

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