By Jay Weaver
Before he joined the U.S. attorney’s office as a federal prosecutor in January, Beranton J. Whisenant Jr. reached out to his close circle of colleagues and friends to let them know about his new career path.
They all thought it was the right fit for him.
For the previous decade, Whisenant worked in civil litigation for a Miami law firm but before that had served as a state prosecutor in Jacksonville, after graduating from the University of Florida law school in 2004. He yearned to return to public service
“I remember telling Beranton, ‘This is the ideal job for you.’ He had that prosecutor’s passion,” said his friend, Miami lawyer Daniel Garcia, who traveled with Whisenant when they took depositions together in asbestos cases around Florida. “All I know is, he was so young and could have continued doing so much good with his life.”
Whisenant’s career with the U.S. attorney’s office was only a few months old when the 37-year-old prosecutor was found
dead in the water along Hollywood Beach early Wednesday. His death, which is being investigated as a crime by the Hollywood Police Department, was devastating news to his family and friends from Miami to Jacksonville, where he was raised by his parents, both medical doctors.
Whisenant lived in Miramar with his wife, Ebony, a physician who teaches at Florida International University’s College of Medicine. They are parents of three children.
Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin Greenberg and former U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferrer interviewed Whisenant for a spot in their Miami office.
“Anytime his name came up, people had glowing things to say about him both in and out-side the office,” Greenberg said, noting it was partly because of his involvement in the Florida Bar and the Black lawyers association in Miami-Dade County. He also taught as an adjunct professor at the University of Miami law school.
Ferrer always liked to ask prospective prosecutors about their greatest accomplishment or proudest moment. Whisenant’s response was obtaining a law degree from the University of Florida at the same time his mother was earning hers.
Lawyer Timothy Ferguson, a close friend of Whisenant’s from their years working together at the Miami law firm Foley & Mansfield, called him a “fierce advocate and trial attorney” on his Instagram account.
“There is no one I would rather have had by my side in the trenches at trial,” Ferguson wrote.
The law firm, where Whisenant worked for nearly a decade, issued a statement as various news outlets reported on his death. “We are heartbroken and sickened by the news,” said Foley & Mansfield’s managing partner in Miami, Virginia Easley Johnson. “He was an exceptional attorney and an even better man.”
A friend who knew Whisenant, Miami lawyer Michael Feiler, said his career “was very motivated by public service.”
“He volunteered for the Florida Bar and planned to become a judge,” Feiler said.
Whisenant’s tragic death, at least for now, remains a mystery.
A Hollywood police spokes-woman initially said Whisenant may have suffered a head wound caused by a possible gunshot or other type of trauma. But no more details were available on Friday, said Hollywood Police Department spokeswoman Miranda Grossman.
The FBI’s Miami office said it was aware of Whisenant’s death but not involved in the investigation.
Normally, if the death of a federal prosecutor or agent were retaliatory in nature or related to a criminal case, both the FBI and U.S. attorney’s office would be sounding the alarm and pursuing an aggressive investigation.
Whisenant, who was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2004 after obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Florida A&M and law degree from UF, joined the U.S. attorney’s office in January and worked in the major crimes section.
The office, which prosecutes criminal and civil cases from Key West to Fort Pierce, expressed its condolences in a statement. An email about Whisenant’s death was circulated among prosecutors and other employees, but it did not comment about the circumstances or cause.
With the Hollywood police not providing any more details about his death, it remains unclear where Whisenant actually died. His body was found washing up on the shore just south of Magnolia Terrace on Hollywood beach early Wednesday by a passerby.