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A month after the body of federal prosecutor Beranton J. Whisenant Jr. washed up in the surf on a beach in Hollywood, there is still no answer from police about what happened to him — but plenty of unfounded internet speculation.
Hollywood police and the Broward medical examiner’s office remain tight-lipped, declining numerous public records requests on Whisenant’s death. In the immediate aftermath of recovering his body on May 24, the department revealed that the highly regarded 37-year-old lawyer in the Miami office of the U.S. Attorney had sustained some type of trauma to his head.
But investigators haven’t added any information since, starting with the most basic questions: Gunshot or something else? Suicide or homicide?
“[Detectives] are still actively investigating it and are waiting for new evidence to come in,” said spokeswoman Miranda Grossman, explaining the department’s silence.
The wait for an explanation about what might have happened to the Miramar father of three has left friends and former colleagues searching for clues themselves and has frustrated some family members. One relative, Angela Padgett, the aunt of Beranton’s wife, contacted The Miami Herald to ask about progress in resolving what she said the family believes was a murder — by a gunshot to the head.
“The coroner told Beranton’s wife that he had a gunshot wound in his head when they turned over his body to the family” in late May for funeral services, said Padgett, who lives in Georgia. She said she was a “concerned family member who has not gotten a good night’s rest since Beranton was killed.”
Whisenant’s immediate family members, including his wife, Ebony, a doctor who teaches at Florida International University’s medical school, and his parents, both Jacksonville physicians, also did not return calls and emails seeking comment on a death that remains shrouded in mystery.
The lack of information from authorities has opened the door for internet fringe sites that traffic in unfounded political conspiracies. But there is little evidence in the real world or in Whisenant’s personal and professional background to suggest someone would target him. Colleagues scrutinizing past cases during a 13-year career as a lawyer — most dealing with asbestos lawsuits — found only one that had sparked any obvious friction. Whisenant, acting as a guardian ad litem in a Miami-Dade family court custody case, was granted a restraining order against a father who wrote him threatening emails a year ago.
But there is no indication that the case in family court, where legal disputes can be highly emotional, has even registered on the radar of Hollywood investigators.A well-known attorney
Someone walking on Hollywood Beach first spotted Whisenant’s body, still dressed in business clothes, floating off shore before dawn on May 24. He had been at work in the U.S. attorney’s office only the day before.
Although he had only been working at the Miami federal prosecutor’s office since January, colleagues who knew him say they were impressed with his commitment and passion, making his death all the more difficult to comprehend. Whisenant was also well known outside the office, having volunteered on Florida Bar committees, taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami law school and participated in the Miami-Dade black lawyers’ association.
Early on the U.S. attorney’s office and FBI determined that it had no connection to his employment as a prosecutor or his federal criminal cases, leaving the death investigation to the Hollywood Police Department. He first did a brief stint in the office’s appellate division, then was assigned to the major crimes section, like all new prosecutors. He handled cases on foreigners illegally entering the country, passport fraud and visa violations, along with a few drug distribution prosecutions.
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