Florida Keys

Drugs and extortion led to the murders of a young couple as 3 kids slept nearby

Carlos Ortiz and Tara Rosado
Carlos Ortiz and Tara Rosado

Jeremy Macauley will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for the Oct. 15, 2015, shooting deaths of Tavernier couple Tara Rosado and Carlos Ortiz, who were gunned down in their bedroom while Rosado’s three young children slept just down the hall in the same house.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia handed down consecutive life sentences to Macauley, 34, Tuesday at the Plantation Key courthouse for the murders of Rosado, 26, and Ortiz, 30. He also got 30 years for armed robbery. A 12-person jury convicted Macauley on Nov. 15 after less than two hours of deliberation. Macauley’s attorney, Ed O’Donnell, Sr., said he will appeal the sentence.

The murders were the end result of an extortion attempt made by Ortiz over a large drug-dealing operation involving him and Macauley. Rosado was targeted simply because she witnessed Ortiz’s slaying. They were both killed in the bedroom of her house on Cuba Road.

Garcia told Macauley, who maintained his innocence, that he appointed himself “judge, jury and executioner” and sentenced Rosado’s children “to a life without their mother,” and in the process he sentenced his children “ to a life without their father.”

In a statement read in court by Assistant State Attorney Reid Scott, Rosado’s sister, Katelyn Farley, called Tara “warm, funny and forgiving.”

“She would more than likely have forgiven you,” she said to Macauley.

Jessica Saylor, Ortiz’s former girlfriend, speaking on behalf of his family, said he “was loved by many, and also a stepfather to a beautiful boy. He wasn’t a bad person. He just got caught up in the wrong situation. I’d like to say sorry to Tara’s family as well.”

Prosecutors say the cocaine Macauley was dealing — anywhere from 12 to 15 kilos — was found offshore of Islamorada the summer before the murders while he was working as a mate on the charter fishing boat Sea Horse. He brought it to shore and sold it with the help of several friends, including Ortiz.

Macauley’s boss at the time, Richard Rodriguez, also the focus of Ortiz’s extortion efforts, has maintained from the beginning that he had nothing to do with the cocaine and had no knowledge of it.

Cell phone records shown during the trial show Ortiz began frantically sending Macauley text messages the day before the murders demanding money and a larger portion of the cocaine to sell. If not, he said he was going to tell the police about the drugs.

The last communication between Ortiz and Macauley was an Oct. 15, 2015, text from Macauley saying he’d come to the Cuba Road house with the money. That was around 10 p.m. Police say Ortiz and Rosado were killed around 10:30 p.m.

Macauley’s partner, Adrian Demblans, 35, drove him to and away from the crime scene. He pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact of a capital felony last spring and agreed to cooperate with the state against Macauley. Demblans, now serving 10 years in prison, testified against Macauley in open court during the November trial.

O’Donnell and his co-attorney, Carlos Gonzalez, argued during the trial that Macauley was innocent of the murders and that Demblans’ twin brother Kristian Demblans was the man who actually pulled the trigger of the .45-caliber pistol used to shoot Ortiz and Rosado once each in the head. Prosecutors during the trial relied heavily on grainy security camera footage filmed from Rosado’s nextdoor neighbor’s home that showed two men arriving the night of the murders, and one man being greeted by Ortiz in the driveway before they both went into the house.

Prosecutors say the man shown is Macauley, but O’Donnell and Gonzalez maintain the poor quality of the footage makes it impossible to conclude anyone’s identity.

Jailhouse witness Eric “Bama” Lansford, gave prosecutors and Sheriff’s Office detectives a sworn statement in October 2016 that Kristian Demblans, who at the time had just been arrested on heroin- and cocaine-dealing charges, told him while they were locked up together in county a month earlier that he was the one who shot Rosado and Ortiz. Lansford said Kristian Demblans told him his brother was going “up the road for him.”

At the time Lansford gave his statement, he was a month from being released from jail on a burglary sentence and is now living back in his home state of Alabama.

Lansford was expected to testify as a key witness for the defense during the trial, but he was a no-show on the day he was scheduled to take the stand. Lansford said via text to O’Donnell that he received threats warning him he’d be dead if he went through with his testimony.

“He said, ‘I’m not coming, my life was threatened,’ ” O’Donnell said after the sentencing Tuesday. “There’s no reason to believe he wasn’t coming.”

O’Donnell said he was told two other people who were expected to take the stand for the defense received similar threats and backed out.

“I’ve never had that happen to me,” he said. “He was the witness who was going to carry the case.”

Macauley, when asked by Garcia if he had anything to say before being sentenced, said the judge was “sending me to prison for something I didn’t do.”

He said he did not receive a fair trial, in large part because Lansford and others caved into threats they received.

“That’s why they couldn’t get to court,” Macauley said.

But Scott, one of the three State Attorney’s Office prosecutors on the case, said Macauley is “the cold-blooded murderer of these two victims,” and the reason he was found guilty was because he was buried under “an avalanche” of evidence “he couldn’t find his way out of.”

While acknowledging that Ortiz’s extortion attempt was real, Scott said, “That doesn’t excuse the taking of life.”

Regarding Lansford, Scott said “Bama” not showing up actually did the defense a favor because another jailhouse witness, Anthony Wollweber, testified that Adrian Demblans told him while locked up that he was the one who shot Ortiz and Rosado.

“Wollweber contradicts Lansford,” Scott said.

David Goodhue: 305-440-3204