Hendry County jury returns guilty verdict against man who killed 'Batman'
A Hendry County jury returned a guilty verdict Thursday against the man accused of fatally shooting an off-duty Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer, remembered as Southwest Florida's "Batman."
Eliceo Hernandez, 23, of LaBelle, was found guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm and attempted second-degree murder, for shooting and killing off-duty FWC officer Julian Keen, Jr., 30, on June 14, 2020.
The jury returned the verdict following a three-day trial.
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Keen was at his LaBelle home with a friend when they heard a loud crash. They looked outside and noticed a pickup leaving.
Investigators determined through interviews that Keen and his friend had witnessed a reckless driver. Keen followed the driver and a chase continued along County Road 78, and through a convenience store parking lot, when the suspect turned north on Nobles Road, in LaBelle, officials said.
Keen's friend rear-ended the pickup, causing it to go off the roadway, but Hernandez maintained control and traveled north a short distance before the man struck the pickup again.
Hernandez lost control and crashed into a ditch at Nobles Road and Apache Circle.
Keen then drove into the convenience store parking lot and continued on foot to the crash.
Hernandez grabbed his gun and jumped out of his pickup, getting into a car driven by his girlfriend.
They drove around the block and Hernandez got out of the car and shot at both men.
One bullet struck and killed Keen. Hernandez fled.
Investigators with the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office located the car, identified Hernandez and arrested him.
Who was Julian Keen?
Growing up in LaBelle and Immokalee, Keen was dedicated to bettering his community by mentoring the youth.
"I wanted to ensure I carried out my brother's legacy," Kennetha Rice, Keen's older sister, told the Daily News at the time. "The legacy of being the change you want to see in this world. Julian wanted to see that every child had a mentor."
Her brother’s final Facebook post asked others in the community to step forward and help mentor the youth, Rice said.
"In the end, I want my brother to be smiling down from Heaven and know that he did not leave a job unfinished," Rice said.
Rice launched youth mentorship program through a nonprofit, Julian Lee Keen Foundation, partnering with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office and Collier County Public Schools. The program launched in August 2021 with students at Immokalee Middle School.
Keen was a high school football star and homecoming-king-turned-alligator-wrestler. He later became a community pillar.
His association with the famed superhero Batman came into play when he became involved in bettering his community by mentoring the youth.
"FWC Officer Julian Keen was a dedicated officer and a pillar of his community," said Col. Roger Young, director of the FWC Division of Law Enforcement. "We hope this verdict brings some measure of closure to his friends, family, community and all his brothers and sisters in law enforcement who continue to mourn his death."
On June 18, 2021, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jacksonville District and the FWC renamed the Moore Haven Lock and Dam to honor Keen.
Hernandez's sentencing is slated for March 30.
Naples Daily News archives contributed to this report.
Tomas Rodriguez is a Breaking/Live News Reporter for the Naples Daily News and The News-Press. You can reach Tomas at TRodriguez@gannett.com or 772-333-5501. Connect with him on Twitter @TomasFRoBeltran, Instagram @tomasfrobeltran and Facebook @tomasrodrigueznews.