The death of a federal prosecutor whose body washed up on a Hollywood beach more than two months ago with a gunshot wound to the head has been ruled a suicide, the Hollywood Police Department said Thursday.
Beranton J. Whisenant Jr., 37, had just started a new job in the Miami office of the U.S. attorney in January when his body was found floating in the surf on May 24. His death stunned family members, friends and colleagues who had remembered him as a passionate man dedicated to his legal work and public service.
Hollywood police said detectives and the Broward medical examiner determined Whisenant “died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound” before his body was discovered just south of Magnolia Terrace on Hollywood beach. It did not say why the investigation took so long to determine the cause of death. The probe was handled by Hollywood police after the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI dismissed any connection to Whisenant’s job or previous cases.
Hollywood spokeswoman Miranda Grossman said in June that detectives were “still actively investigating it and are waiting for new evidence to come in.”
Before Hollywood police announced the investigation had concluded Thursday, several web sites had published unfounded rumors about possible motives behind Whisenant’s death, though there was little evidence in any of his prior cases or background to substantiate them.
Whisenant had worked as a state prosecutor in Jacksonville and as a civil lawyer for the Miami law firm Foley & Mansfield before taking the new job in the U.S. attorney’s office, and colleagues said that he eventually hoped to become a judge. He had also volunteered on Florida Bar committees and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami law school.
Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg and former U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer interviewed Whisenant for a spot in their Miami office.
“Anytime his name came up, people had glowing things to say about him both in and outside the office,” Greenberg said, noting it was partly because of his involvement in the Florida Bar and the black lawyers association in Miami-Dade County.
Ferrer always liked to ask prospective prosecutors about their greatest accomplishment or proudest moment. Whisenant’s response was obtaining a law degree from the University of Florida at the same time his mother was earning hers. Whisenant’s mother and father, both physicians, raised the family in Jacksonville.
Lawyer Timothy Ferguson, a close friend of Whisenant’s from their years working together at Foley & Mansfield, called him a “fierce advocate and trial attorney” on his Instagram account.
“There is no one I would rather have had by my side in the trenches at trial,” Ferguson wrote after his friend’s death.
Another friend who knew Whisenant, Miami lawyer Michael Feiler, said his career “was very motivated by public service.”
Whisenant is survived by wife Ebony, who is a doctor and teaches at Florida International University’s medical school, and three children.