Manuel “Manny” Madruga embodied the role of the career prosecutor, wearing it like a tailored suit: Determined, respected by law enforcement and defense lawyers and prepared to fight for justice.
But the Miami-born chief assistant state attorney, who fatally shot himself inside his New Town home last week after nearly three decades of handling criminal cases in the Florida Keys, carried the Key West spirit of public service through volunteerism and acceptance.
Trish Gibson, a veteran assistant public defender, spent 22 years going against Madruga in the courtroom.
“And he became my friend and neighbor,” Gibson posted on Facebook several hours after word Madruga had killed himself had spread across the small island. “Key West lost a great person and lawyer today. I am so sorry for his family and friends.”
Madruga, 53, was found at his home on 12th Street after a 1 p.m. call was made to 911, police said. He left a daughter.
Through social media, run-ins at the Publix grocery, texting and phone calls, Key Westerss Thursday learned they had lost one of the good guys, someone who had done so much for so many at work and in his off time.
“He was a good man,” said Dan Dombroski, executive director of the nonprofit Boys and Girls Club. “We lost a very, very good person in the community. I’m shocked. He knew everyone. Everyone liked Manny. I’ve never heard anyone say anything against Manny Madruga.”
Madruga formerly served as chairman of the Boys and Girls Club’s board of directors. Dombroski asked him to do it after watching him in court, where they first met.
“I was a juror on a murder trial and he was the prosecutor,” Dombroski said. “A guy had stomped his kid to death in Bahama Village. I was so impressed with his compassion and his dedication. I asked him to have lunch with me and he joined our board. I marveled at his dedication and professionalism. He cared about this kid who got killed.”
Madruga made Key West his home and the place to launch his legal career 26 years ago. He was hired as a prosecutor in 1990 straight out of the University of Miami Law School.
He handled some of the worst criminal cases of murder and mayhem in the Florida Keys. In 2009, Madruga won the Gene Barry Award from the Florida Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the highest honor for a prosecutor in this state.
“Manny is, in short, a lawyer’s lawyer,” wrote then-Chief Assistant State Attorney Don Barrett in the nomination letter. “He is an inspiration to other lawyers.”
To succeed in court as a prosecutor, Madruga said one must communicate well with the jury and approach building each case with diligence.
“Many times emotion is something that can cloud judgment,” Madruga told the Keynoter in 2009. “You have to approach these cases with objectivity. Justice is the ultimate goal.”
In Key West, Madruga was much more than the high-profile prosecutor. He knew who to reach out to if someone came to him for help, friends and colleagues said, and he was willing to give of his time when asked.
Madruga was a board member of the Monroe Association for ReMARCable Citizens, which on Thursday released a statement saying, “Manny, you will be greatly missed” and offering condolences to his family.
Madruga “was an extremely important part of our board and organization,” MARC House said. “He was a true supporter of our cause with no need for anything in return. He contributed without question and was many times the calm voice of reason.”
Key West Police Chief Donie Lee also offered Madruga’s family thoughts and prayers, as did the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.
“This is devastating news to us here at the police department,” Lee said. “He was an outstanding career prosecutor. We’re going to miss his counsel, his friendship, his knowledge.”
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen