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Former Jacksonville cop expected to plead guilty in 1999 murder

His ex-wife already accepted plea deal in death of Saad Kawaf

Former JSO detective, William Baer is expected to plead guilty to the murder of Saad Kawaf, a man he was actually investigating in 1999.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective indicted earlier this year on a count of first-degree murder in the stabbing death of a businessman and the robbery of his wife in 1999 is expected to plead guilty at a hearing next week, according to court documents.

The state attorney’s office had informed William Baer it would seek the death penalty if he’s convicted. His defense lawyer had told prosecutors that Baer would plead guilty if the death penalty was taken off the table.

Baer was also charged with kidnapping with a weapon, armed robbery, armed burglary and aggravated battery.

Saad Kawaf, who was killed in his Deerwood home, was under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and FBI for not reporting cash transactions of over $10,000, which are required to be reported for tax purposes. According to the FDLE, Kawaff reported $407,000 without making the required reports.

RELATED: Documents: ‘99 cold case victim was under FBI investigation

According to investigators, on the day in May 1999 that Kawaf’s body was discovered, the attackers knew Kawaf had not yet made his weekly deposit at the bank and wanted the cash. Eventually, the wife told them where they could find $30,000 in the kitchen cabinets. The wife was duct-taped to a chair at the home and Kawaf died of his injuries.

Saad Kawaf was stabbed to death in his Deerwood home in May 1999. (WJXT)

“I could never imagine that a police officer who has (been) entrusted to protect people doing such a heinous act,” said the victim’s brother, Omar Kawaf.

Baer’s ex-wife, Melissa Schafer, was also charged. Police said was aware there was a large amount of cash in the Kawaf’s home.

Schafer has pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.

Baer, now 65, was with the Sheriff’s Office for 27 years, joining in 1975 and retiring in 2002.

Attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case, speculates his age and health are factors in the state attorney being satisfied with accepting a guilty plea rather than pursuing a trial and sentencing.

“I am sure that the defense counsel has been working since the very beginning to try to find some resolution in this case to not have to go to trial because their client could face death if they lose,” Nichols said. “And for that reason, I am not surprised they’ve been able to work out something that will get this case resolved. I fully expected it’s either going to be an extensive prison sentence to potential life.”

About the Authors:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.