South Florida

Last hours leading to prosecutor’s mysterious death detailed in new police report

Beranton J. Whisenant Jr.
Beranton J. Whisenant Jr.

One evening in May, federal prosecutor Beranton J. Whisenant Jr. confronted his wife, Ebony, about ending their marriage, then left their Miramar home in his gray Lexus sedan.

Around midnight, she reached him by cellphone and he told her that he was going to Hollywood beach by the Diplomat Hotel. They talked again about their relationship, with Whisenant saying he “had given up, but it didn’t matter anymore.” Later, he sent her some “unsettling text messages” and said goodbye.

Distraught, Ebony Whisenant drove to the Diplomat, searching the hotel parking lot. She found his car but not him. Within hours, a passersby would find her husband’s body in the surf, with a single gunshot wound to his head.

Those are the details of the last hours of Whisenant’s life disclosed in a newly released report from Hollywood police. The department spent more than two months investigating the federal prosecutor’s shocking death before the Broward County medical examiner’s office ruled his death a suicide last week.

The dearth of information made the case fodder for internet conspiracy mongers, who floated links to political scandals. The police report, which includes detectives’ summaries of interviews with his wife and parents from Jacksonville, refutes those bogus reports and reveals for the first time the possible reasons why the outgoing lawyer and father of three took his own life.

Family members have declined to speak publicly about Whisenant’s death, but they told investigators that they believe marital difficulties were behind his distress and decision.

That last night, Ebony Whisenant, afraid of being alone in the darkness behind the Diplomat Hotel, decided to return home to start her search again in the morning. Security cameras, according to the police report, showed her husband briefly entering the Diplomat, possibly to buy a drink at the resort bar, but then exiting the hotel. When she came back to Hollywood beach on the morning of May 24, she would learn from police that her husband was found floating facedown in the surf.

Whisenant, a 37-year-old federal prosecutor with the U.S. attorney’s office, had shot himself in the right side of the head. He was wearing blue jeans, a brown belt and white T-shirt, with blood spattered on it from the “contact gunshot wound.”

One complication for investigators: No gun was recovered during a search — possibly washed out with the tide.

On the morning his body was discovered, Whisenant’s parents, both physicians, showed up at Hollywood beach shortly after his wife, who is a doctor who teaches at Florida International University’s medical school. The parents had driven overnight from Jacksonville after receiving a “distressed” call from Ebony.

Ebony also told the mother that she and the son were having marital troubles — that “he did not want to be with her anymore.” That same morning, Ebony agreed to talk with detectives, saying that she and her husband were “having problems with their relationship” and that he had previously threatened to shoot himself after an argument. But during questioning, both Whisenant’s wife and mother described him as “sad” but not “clinically depressed.”

She also told detectives that Whisenant owned a firearm that was kept in locked safe, but she did not have access to it. Detectives conducted a federal database search and found that he had purchased a .40-caliber Glock in 2005.

There were no signs of robbery. A woman walking along the beach that morning found a pair of Nike shoes along the shore that contained two black socks, a key ring, an iPhone, and a wallet containing $80, several credit cards and his Florida driver’s license.

A graduate of University of Florida’s law school, Whisenant had worked as a state prosecutor in Jacksonville and as a civil lawyer for the Miami law firm Foley & Mansfield before taking a new job in the U.S. attorney’s office in January. He had also volunteered on Florida Bar committees and taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami law school.

His death stunned family members, friends and colleagues who had remembered him as a passionate man dedicated to his legal work and public service.

Last week, 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. According to the investigative report, the Broward ME’s office had made that same preliminary ruling soon after Whisenant’s body was found, but wanted to wait until the police investigation was concluded before making it official.

That has raised questions about why the investigation took so long to determine the official 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 “it is not unusual for death investigations to take some time as investigators sort through and review all the information.

“In reference to Mr. Beranton Whisenant’s death, detectives reviewed multiple pieces of evidence including surveillance tapes, emails, phone records and interviews in order to conclusively determine his death was a suicide,’ she said. “This is all shown in the reports and timeline.”

The vacuum of official information, however, sparked rank speculation about the case in social media. Before Hollywood police announced the investigation’s conclusion last Thursday, several websites had published unfounded rumors about possible motives behind Whisenant’s death, though there was no evidence in any of his prior cases or background to substantiate them.

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