MOORE HAVEN – On Jan. 31, 2014 Mario Monroy Hughes was gunned down in his parents’ Park Avenue S.E. home in Moore Haven just days before he was scheduled to testify against Artavistus Lyndrel Ware in a drug case.
Even without Hughes’ testimony, Ware was convicted on eight felony drug charges including the sale of cocaine and the sale of schedule I and II narcotics. He was sentenced to 17 years in prison.
Investigators spent the next three years working on the complicated case. They had no murder weapon, no DNA evidence, no fingerprints and no eye witnesses. They built the case using cell phone GPS data, text messages, statements from people Ware had spoken to or threatened before the murder and testimony from a man Ware met in prison.
In 2017 after being indicted by a Grand Jury, Ware was charged in the murder.
On April 29, 2021, seven years after the Hughes’ death, a 12-person Glades County jury found Ware guilty of: First degree murder; conspiracy to commit murder; tampering with a witness, victim or informant (two counts); solicitation to commit first degree murder and burglary of a dwelling.
The trial started April 19. It took a week just to seat a jury from the hundreds of people who received a summons. The state’s case took two and a half days. The defense did not call any witnesses.
In closing statements Thursday morning, the prosecutors connected the dots for the jury.
It all started when Mario Hughes and his girlfriend were acting as confidential informants for Glades County Sheriff’s Office, Assistant State Attorney J.D. Miller told the jury. They had purchased drugs from Ware as part of a joint investigation by Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the Glades County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO). According to trial testimony, Hughes had been a confidential informant for GCSO in 10 cases. Seven of those individuals were incarcerated at the time of the murder. Investigators were able to verify the alibis of two of the others. Ware was out on bond.
Hughes’s girlfriend testified that Ware had threatened her, saying “he would assassinate us if we testified.” Under continued pressure from Ware, she agreed to write a letter taking back her testimony in the drug case.
Thomas McGill testified that prior to the murder, when he was driving around in a car with Ware and two other individuals, Ware had offered him $10,000 to kill Hughes and showed him the house where Hughes lived. McGill said he told law enforcement about the conversation “when I saw on the news that boy got killed.”
Evidence presented at the trial also included texts between cell phones owned by Ware and Don Black such as:
Another text message from Black mentioned “swapping a 40 for a 9.” The gun used in the Hughes murder was a .40 caliber.
(In 2015, Black was convicted of second degree murder in a Lee County case.)
Cell phone tower "pings" showed the cell phones owned by Ware and Black were together on the night of the murder.
On the night of the murder, Ware went to the Moore Haven High School basketball game, according to court testimony, but he did not stay long.
According to court testimony, unrelated to his work as a confidential informant, Mario Hughes had gotten into some trouble with the law and was on house arrest in his parents' home with a GPS monitor pending his own court hearing.
Hughes’ father, Norman L. “Sonny” Hughes was the JV basketball coach at Moore Haven Middle High School. Miller told the jurors Ware went to the game on the night of the murder to make sure Sonny Hughes was not home.
In earlier testimony, Sonny Hughes said on the night of the murder, he coached the JV team and then stayed to film the varsity game. As he was existing the gym, he got a phone call. He rushed home to see flashing lights and an ambulance. One of the EMTs stopped me from going into the house and told him what had happened. He said his wife, who had called 911, was not able to testify at the trial due to her health.
“I submit to you, he (Ware) went to the basketball game, he saw Sonny Hughes was there and he left,” said Miller. “He called Don Black and told him the play was on.”
Black’s cell phone and Ware’s phone were together right after the homicide, he said. They traveled from Moore Haven through LaBelle, through Alva to Lehigh Acres together.
A few days after the homicide, Ware changed his phone number.
Ware’s drug case went to court, and even without Hughes’ testimony, Ware was found guilty. He was sent to prison.
That’s where he met Matthew Hutchins, a fellow inmate who had been incarcerated prior to Ware’s arrival. During the trial, Hutchins testified Ware told him that he paid someone $10,000 to kill a witness to keep him from testifying.
“He told me the dude set him up,” said Hutchins. “He had to have him killed because he didn’t want to go to prison.”
Hutchins said Ware also told him about the letter Hughes’ girlfriend had written taking back her testimony.
“His lawyer said if he used it in the trial it could be used against him,” Hutchins said, because the letter was proof of tampering with a witness.
Hutchins said he told police what Ware had said. He also related the story to his mother.
Defense attorney Daniel Hernandez argued the case "was built on circumstantial evidence with serious limitations." He claimed the witnesses against Ware were not credible and the case had not been proven beyond reasonable doubt. He said a confidential informant could have many enemies, including family and friends who don’t want to see their loved one go to jail and other people involved in criminal activity in Moore Haven.
At presstime, a sentencing hearing date had not yet been set.