a group of men standing around a wooden table
Franklin Tyrone Tucker, far right, speaks with prosecutors on Jan. 12 during his murder trial. Tucker acted as his own lawyer. GWEN FILOSA/Keys Weekly

A Monroe County judge on April 30 issued an arrest warrant for the suspect in the 2017 murder of 59-year-old Matthew Bonnett on Stock Island, a case that became known as the “treehouse murder,” for the open-air location where a woman was living at the time.

Franklin Tyrone Tucker, 52, has fended off prosecutors since then, and walked out of court in January on bond after a hung jury. He has been free after posting a $2 million bond in 2019.

But on May 3, Tucker was arrested and booked into the Multnomah County jail in Portland, Oregon, after Keys court officials said he violated the conditions of his pretrial release by missing a scheduled urinalysis test for alcohol.

Monroe County Judge James W. Morgan III signed the warrant and set a $3.1 million bond. At press time, Tucker remained in custody in Oregon. He’s due to appear at the Monroe County Courthouse in Key West at 1:30 p.m. June 17

Franklin Tyrone Tucker stands alone in court during a jury break on Jan 12, 2024. Tucker acted as his own lawyer during the trial on murder and robbery charges. GWEN FILOSA/Keys Weekly

Before his arrest, Tucker took to Facebook to decry the arrest warrant as yet another unfair move against him by the criminal justice system.

“I know it’s most likely a trap, even if it is and while I have a bad feeling about it, I’d rather walk in like a man than be drug in like a dog,” Tucker wrote. 

Tucker said he eventually took the urine test and only missed the previously scheduled one because when he arrived at the lab he was told he “couldn’t take the test.”

However, the pretrial services officer’s report says Tucker told them another story:the lab had a “computer issue” and also he had been feeling ill for the past two days. 

The lab said Tucker’s registration had expired by the time he made it through the line after waiting 10-15 minutes, according to the same report. 

Tucker has been fighting charges that he fatally stabbed Bonnett during a robbery on Stock Island.

After a series of tabloid-style twists, Tucker became the story.

He married a woman who’s a regular item in New York Post’s Page 6 column, posted a $2 million bond and after Court TV’s gavel-to-gavel livestream coverage of his trial in Key West in January, became a minor cause célèbre with an online following.

Tucker represented himself at court. And while his amateur lawyering frustrated prosecutors, he raised enough doubt in jurors’ minds to dodge conviction. 

Monroe County Judge Mark Jones declared a mistrial after jurors couldn’t reach the required unanimous decision.

Deliberations began and ended on the same day, with a majority of the jurors voting guilty. A couple had questions. 

A juror told Keys Weekly this week that, in the end, a lone holdout juror refused to budge from her decision that Tucker should be acquitted. That led to the hung jury. 

On Jan. 29, Judge Jones disqualified himself from the case and the court assigned it to Judge Morgan. 

Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward’s office wants a judge to place a gag order on Tucker, citing his regular Facebook posts and videos on his YouTube channel in which he discusses his case and accuses prosecutors and the sheriff’s office of misconduct.

Tucker announced plans  to have his wife, Lauren Jenai, interview a witness in the case despite a no contact order that forbids him from having direct or indirect contact, including contact through a third party, with the witness.

The Monroe County State Attorney’s Office has no plans to drop the case.

“A man’s life was lost and he was involved in it,” prosecutor Joe Mansfield told Keys Weekly on Friday. “He needs to be held accountable for it.”

Tucker was charged with the fatal stabbing of Bonnett along with assault for the slashing of Paula Belmonte. Belmonte died Feb. 6 in Key West from complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), according to her obituary. Under Florida law, prosecutors don’t have to prove which of the three men charged with murdering Bonnett or attacking Belmonte used the knife.

“In my eyes she will always be my hero, choosing to be my friend when everyone was still trying to convince her that I’m just a horrible monster,” Tucker posted about her death. “She fought for my freedom right up until the end and I will never forgive the way they treated her.”

The jury’s split verdict in January hasn’t deterred Mansfield from returning to court.

“We’ve got evidence we feel proves he was involved in this murder,” he said. “Several jurors believed in the evidence.”

Even some of Tucker’s strongest supporters want him to hire attorneys this time.

“Tucker, you did an outstanding job representing yourself but hire a dang lawyer man,” one commented on his Facebook post. “They are going nuclear on you bro.”

Gwen Filosa
Gwen Filosa is The Keys Weekly’s Digital Editor, and has covered Key West news, culture and assorted oddities since she moved to the island in 2011. She was previously a reporter for the Miami Herald and WLRN public radio. Before moving to the Keys, Gwen was in New Orleans for a decade, covering criminal courts for The Times-Picayune. In 2006, the paper’s staff won the Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news and the Public Service Medal for their coverage of the Hurricane Katrina disaster. She remains a devout Saints fan. She has a side hustle as a standup comedian, and has been a regular at Comedy Key West since 2017. She is also an acclaimed dogsitter, professional Bingo caller and a dedicated Wilco fan.