Retired Jacksonville detective pleads guilty in 1999 murder of businessman, gets life in prison

William Baer was posing as real estate agent when he stabbed Saad Kawaf, prosecutors say

William Baer, a former Jacksonville Sheriff's Office detective has pleaded guilty of the murder and robbery of Jacksonville businessman, Saad Kawaf more than 20 years ago.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A retired Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office detective on Tuesday pleaded guilty in the robbery and stabbing death of a businessman in 1999.

William Baer, now 65, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, kidnapping with a weapon, armed robbery and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. As part of a plea agreement, the death penalty was taken off the table, and Judge Mark Borello sentenced Baer to life in prison.

Saad Kawaf, who was killed in his Deerwood home in May 1999, was under investigation for not reporting $407,000 in cash transactions, according to state investigators.

Baer — who was with the Sheriff’s Office for 27 years, joining in 1975 and retiring in 2002 — was working on a financial crimes task force at the time.

“He’s a disgrace to his name, to his family and ultimately the badge. He committed the ultimate betrayal. He used law enforcement information in order to commit a crime to take a life,” Assistant State Attorney L.E. Hutton said Tuesday.

Baer and his ex-wife, Melissa Schafer, were aware of a large sum of money at Kawaf’s country club home. Posing as real estate agents, prosecutors said, Baer stabbed Kawaf with a hunting knife and duct-taped his wife to a chair. Kawaf died of his injuries.

Heather Kayal, Kawaf’s niece, spoke at the hearing on behalf of the victim’s family, thanking police, prosecutors and Project Cold Case.

“I don’t think you can ever get full closure because you can’t get your loved one back, but I definitely feel like justice being served is confirmation that one should hold out hope,” Kayal said.

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

In July 2020, JSO announced the arrests of Baer and Schafer in Kawaf’s death after a DNA match in a partnership with Project Cold Case. Schafer pleaded guilty in December 2020 to second-degree murder and four other counts connected to his death.

Baer did not testify at Tuesday’s hearing, but his son spoke on his behalf, saying Schafer was an evil influence. His attorney said he had a record of excellent service to the community as a respected officer, but the judge said that made the crime that much more horrific.

Baer’s attorney said he has serious medical conditions from cancer and asked that he spend his sentence at a prison hospital in Lake Butler. The state will make the final decision on that.

Schafer is due back in court on Oct. 25. She faces 31 years to life in prison.

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