Local Obituaries

Longtime Miami-Dade prosecutor David Waksman dies at 71

David Waksman, a retired Miami-Dade assistant state attorney, in a 1997 photo.
David Waksman, a retired Miami-Dade assistant state attorney, in a 1997 photo. Miami Herald

On New York City streets, he chased bad guys as a beat cop. In courtrooms, he convinced juries to convict some of Miami’s most notorious murderers.

David Waksman, with gusto and a Bronx brogue, never took his position in law enforcement for granted. “Not everyone will pay you to put bad guys in jail,” he liked to say.

“He used to say that at least once a month,” said his daughter, Jacki Alexander, 31. “For him, it really was the greatest job in the world.”

Waksman died Monday of brain cancer, leaving behind an enduring legacy as one of the most decorated and colorful figures in Miami-Dade law enforcement. He was 71.

The plain-spoken prosecutor had a knack for connecting with juries and the relatives of murder victims. He tried hundreds of cases, while teaching law and homicide investigations, and wrote a textbook about searches and seizures that was once cited in a U.S. Supreme Court case.

Alongside U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Waksman was even featured in a PBS television segment about the Bill of Rights.

“David was one of the most respected and well-liked prosecutors our office has ever known,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle wrote in an email Tuesday to her office.

Waksman was born in New York City, where he graduated from college and worked as a substitute teacher. He joined the police department in the late 1960s and became a New York City cop in the Bronx. He later worked as an organized-crime detective while taking law classes a night. He moved to South Florida to finish his degree at the University of Miami in 1974.

Waksman’s first job out of law school was with the Dade state attorney’s office, where he soon began trying murder cases as the crime rate soared during the 1970s and ’80s.

In trial, Waksman played up his big city street smarts.

“Jurors loved his New York police sergeant demeanor,” said defense lawyer Mark Seiden, who tried cases with Waksman as a prosecutor in the early 1980s.

Said Miami-Dade Chief Assistant State Attorney Kathleen Hoague: “David was the most down-to-earth person. He had a way of speaking very plainly. He was open and honest and jurors had a lot of confidence in him.”

Waksman also forged enduring relationships with the relatives of murder victims, even testifying before the Legislature in advocating for a law that allowed them to sit in court for hearings. He frequently attended meetings of a local support group called Parents of Murdered Children.

Even up until recent weeks, Waksman remained close friends with North Miami’s Marvin Weinstein, the father of 10-year-old Staci Weinstein, who was shot to death by intruders in 1987. Waksman convicted her killer.

“It was very personal for him. He was representing people who couldn’t speak for themselves,” said Marvin Weinstein, today a crime-watch coordinator with North Miami police. “And my daughter couldn’t speak in court.”

Over the years, Waksman helped put away a rogue’s gallery of defendants, including:

▪  Robert Patten, who shot and killed Miami Police Officer Nathaniel Broom during a foot chase in Overtown in 1981. Patten, a white robber who killed the black officer during a racially charged era in Miami history, died while serving a life prison term.

▪  David Cook, who confessed he shot and killed a middle-aged couple during the robbery of a South Dade Burger King restaurant in 1984. He is serving life in prison.

▪  Manuel Pardo, a former Sweetwater cop who became a serial killer, murdering and robbing drug dealers during the 1980s. Pardo was executed by the state in 2012. “He was very cold,” Waksman told the Miami Herald after the execution. “He was doing robberies and went home and slept like a baby. He was proud of what he did.”

▪  Maria Catabay, a former office assistant who prosecutors said engineered the botched burglary that ended in the shooting deaths of Coral Gables physician Paul Jarrett, 82, and his son, Gregg Jarrett, 47, in 2003. She is serving 30 years in prison.

“He felt like he helped make the streets safe and nothing made him prouder,” said his daughter, Jacki Alexander.

Waksman also was a member of the Shomrim Society, an organization for Jewish police officers. Waksman made a name for himself speaking on legal matters to the press and training other prosecutors and police. His work, The Search and Seizure Handbook, was cited by Scalia in a 2006 opinion.

Waksman had gotten to know Scalia during the taping of a PBS segment about the 200-year anniversary of the Bill of Rights in 1989.

“They became friendly,” said Penny Brill, the head of the state attorney’s legal bureau. “And he was so excited that his treatise was mentioned. He couldn’t wait to show me.”

Waksman retired in 2009, but remained active in law-enforcement circles, volunteering as a legal adviser for the North Miami Police.

Waksman’s wife, Estelle, died of cancer in 1998. Waksman is survived by his mother, Anne Waksman, 96; brothers Richard and Steven; daughters Danielle Lifshitz and Jacki Alexander, and two grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held Thursday at Star of David Memorial Gardens, 7701 Bailey Rd. in North Lauderdale, at noon.