Gardner Kent Fraser killed Dominic “DJ” Broadus II but no one knows why.
Fraser doesn’t deny it, nor does the state attorney for Florida’s Eighth Judicial Circuit. After shooting Broadus in the face, investigators say Fraser, who is white, waited 21 minutes to dial 911. Asked by emergency operators if he knew Broadus, Fraser said: “Ahh, I believe I do.”
When Baker County sheriff’s deputies arrived on the scene at Southern States Nurseries in Macclenny, Fla., they noted that 31-year-old D.J. Broadus’ body appeared to have been moved or rolled over. Broadus was holding a cell phone when he was shot, but it was nowhere to be found when the authorities arrived on the scene. Although authorities never found Broadus’ phone, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigation would later uncover 115 phone calls and 35 text messages between the two men, including explicit and sexual images. Authorities allege that Fraser deleted some of the messages, reportedly to hide his relationship with Broadus.
On Monday, Fraser appeared before Florida Circuit Court Judge James Colaw, via videoconference because of COVID, to answer for his crimes.
“This defendant took the actions to get rid of that phone,” said State Attorney Mark Caliel told Colaw. “To this day, only one person knows where D.J. Broadus’ phone is. That’s Garner Fraser.”
The state alleged that Fraser destroyed the phone because he didn’t want anyone to find out about the sexual relationship between the two. Meanwhile, Fraser pleaded no contest and begged the court for leniency. Standing before the parents of a dead child, defense attorney James Sawyer literally argued that it was Fraser who had to serve a “life sentence” because he was “traumatized.”
“There was a struggle and it appears that it was a complete surprise that Mr. Broadus was there,” Sawyer said.
Judge Colaw, however, saw the case differently, citing the pain of the victim’s family and what he called a “coverup,” Colaw sentenced Fraser to the maximum possible sentence under the law.
Gardner Kent Fraser will spend a year in the Baker County Jail.
“In order for the defendant to hide his feminine, bisexual nature, he executed my son and my grandson’s father,” Dominic Broadus Sr., D.J.’s father, told the court on Monday. “In an effort to try and keep his secret, he fatally shot my son in the back of the head twice and tried to destroy any evidence of their relationship by deleting all text from his phone and destroying/hiding my son’s phone, then calling three people before reporting the shooting to the proper authorities.”
In the victim’s impact statement provided to The Root by the Broadus family, the father added:
The execution style killing of my son shows the pure evilness and depravity of the defendant.
To be only charged with “tampering with evidence” is a travesty of the law. The law has failed this family in charging the defendant in what clearly is murder is heart wrenching.
By destroying my son’s phone and deleting evidence is motive for the real crime committed.
In the 3 years since executing my son, the defendant has shown no remorse for his actions, has continually lied about his knowledge of my son and also has lied about his actions in regard to the execution of Dominic. Instead the defendant has tried to strike a deal for withholding adjudication.
The defendant and his lawyer would have fought the charges of tampering with evidence if not for the overwhelming evidence that showed these two had a previous relationship. Or as his lawyer, Sawyer, stated “it doesn’t make any difference if a gay black man was in Baker County to meet someone or for whatever reason he might be in Baker County and a fight began.”
The law has let this killer walk free for nearly 3 years. This is not justice in the American legal system.
The claim that the defendant was in fear of his life isn’t displayed in his relentless enticing of my son to his place of residence. In fact, he is the one who aggressively pursued my son for many days in November and December of 2017 to re-connect with him after meeting him 4 months earlier.
The first thing out of the defendant’s mouth when law enforcement arrived “was this was a practical joke from two weeks ago gone bad.” This was overheard by several officers arriving at the scene. A practical joke where you execute someone by shooting them in the head 4 times is not a “practical joke.”
Adjudication and sentencing the defendant cannot assuage the grief to a father, mother, son, sister, brother and other family members, especially where Dominic’s life was taken so violently. The court, however, can demonstrate that his actions are so egregious and deserve the maximum penalty prescribed by law.
This is the family’s wish in regards to this case of tampering with evidence.
When Judge Colaw handed down the sentence, Fraser clasped his head in his hands, obviously distraught by the fact that he would have to spend one year in prison.
He’ll be fine.
Under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, not only does a person accused of killing someone has no “duty to retreat,” defendants are not even required to prove that they acted in self-defense. Because of a 2017 ruling, Florida prosecutors must now prove that the defendant was not acting in fear for his or her life. And the accused killer doesn’t have to convince a jury. As Slate reports: “The law allows a single judge to grant a defendant unilateral immunity, thus preventing a jury from ever hearing the case or assessing the evidence.”
When Fraser claimed he shot Broadus in the face multiple times during a fight, he didn’t have to prove Broadus attacked him. In fact, the burden of proof fell on the state to prove that an attack didn’t occur.
Florida’s state attorney could only charge Fraser with tampering with the evidence, a third-degree felony with a maximum possible sentence of one year. Lucky for Fraser, in Florida, sentences of less than one year are served in a county facility. Still, he’s going to jail right?
Well, about that FDLE investigation...
The investigation was turned over to the FDLE after local authorities realized there might be a conflict of interest in the case. The deputy who first arrived on the scene knew Fraser’s father, Ryan T. Fraser, raising the possibility of a conflict of interest.
In 2009, Ryan Fraser was fired from the nearby Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department in 2009 for shooting Jerrick Hall, an unarmed Black man. At the time, Jacksonville’s sheriff said that Ryan Fraser was terminated because Hall did not pose a threat to Fraser when the deputy shot the 20-year-old in 2008. Aside from owning the Southern States Nursery, the Gardner family has numerous family members in the area’s law enforcement community. So, when Ryan lost his job in Jacksonville, he was somehow able to get another job in law enforcement...
At the Baker County Jail.
Fraser eventually retired from the Baker County Sheriff’s Office in 2017 and there is no proof that Ryan helped his son tamper with evidence. But, according to the FDLE, in the 21 minutes between shooting Broadus and calling 911, Fraser placed a call to his father. When deputies arrived on the scene, one additional person was present but their name was mysteriously scrubbed from the police report.
“Baker County is one of those counties where you know it is a ‘good ole boy’ system back up in there,” Jacksonville’s Rev. R.L. Gundy told The Root during a 2019 town hall. “In Baker County, it’s gonna be deeper because you got an entrenched law enforcement component down there in Baker County that is going to cover [for] one another.”
The town is also known for its courthouse, which has a controversial mural depicting the history of Baker County, including the terrorist history of the Ku Klux Klan. According to historians, Florida had the second-largest Klan organization in the country in the 1950s—just a scant few years ago. In those days, the reputed grand wizard of the Klan was a man from Macclenny, in Baker County, who denied being a Klan leader but assured everyone that he could speak for the man who was the grand wizard. He proudly stated that the Klan stood for white supremacy, segregation, and “upholding the law,” explaining: “There’s plenty of ways to do things within the law and sometimes we have to straighten up the officials.”
Of course, this has nothing to do with the death of D.J. Broadus, nor should it implicate Gardner Fraser or anyone in the Fraser family, except for one interesting detail:
That supposed Grand Wizard was named J.E. Fraser.
J.E. Fraser lived just outside in Baker County. But he wasn’t just a Klan spokesperson. In fact, Fraser was a landowner and moderately successful businessman. Fraser incorporated his business in 1951 and passed it down to his family.
He owned Southern States Nurseries in Macclenny, Fla.
“I don’t know how this guy gets away with not being charged with murder,” said the elder Broadus after the trial. “I’m not happy with everything [the state attorney’s office] has done. I’m not happy with the laws of the state of Florida. Like I said, the evidence is there, which clearly shows this was murder, and you can probably even call it premeditated.”
Before Monday’s hearing, the Broadus family rejected a plea deal that would have seen Fraser not found guilty of a crime. Broadus Sr. said he understood that the judge could only decide the case before him and was happy to see Fraser was given the maximum sentence possible. Broadus is urging the state’s attorneys to continue investigating the case, hoping they will uncover new evidence that allows them to charge Fraser with more serious crimes.
The teary-eyed father said he hopes his son is remembered as a loving father and son. When asked if he thinks his son would ever receive justice, he could only respond: “We pray. We pray.”
Before leaving, Broadus said he could not publicly say how he feels about how law enforcement officers handled the case.
“There’s a T-shirt somebody gave me but I don’t want to repeat it.”
“Fuck the Baker County Sheriff’s Office,” said someone standing nearby. “Is that what the T-shirt said?”
“That’s what the T-shirt said,” said Broadus, barely able to muster a smile.