SPECIAL REPORT: How Florida Sheriff’s Office, prosecutors botched a 2021 homicide case By: Lee Williams

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Officials were more interested in their critics on social media than evidence.

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Ariana Ptarcinski, left, was fatally stabbed on Christmas Eve 2021 shortly after this photo was taken. Her boyfriend, Ramon Durst, right, was never questioned by investigators. Hernando County, Florida officials have not made an arrest in the case. (Photo Courtesy Ptarcinski Family.)

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Ramon Durst made many spontaneous statements while in the back of Deputy Dowdell’s squad car. (Photo courtesy Ptarcinski Family.

Lots of mens rea

Deputy Abraham Dowdell wrote a three-sentence description of the recording that took place in the back of his squad car – a recording that’s full of mens rea.  

“While Ramon was seated in the back seat of my patrol vehicle, he constantly attempted to engage in conversation, asking if I could find out the status of his girlfriend, good or bad, what’s the crime rate in the area, and how many federal prisons in Florida. At one point he said he was going to be raped, at which time I inquired why you would say that. He said look at me I’m covered in blood. At no time did I question or interview Ramon, nor did I question or interview anyone on scene,” Deputy Dowdell wrote.  

Some of the admissions Durst made include the following:

  • “I slipped on the bed.”

  • “No one will have mercy for me.”

  • “Do you know what federal prison I will go to?”

  • “I know I don’t deserve any mercy.”

  • “I’m going to get raped in prison.”

  • “Why did I do that, something so brutal and violent.”

  • “Officer Dowdell, how do you think one goes on from a situation like this?”

  • “I don’t want to get raped.”

  • “Do you hold contempt for prisoners, criminals?”

  • “Malice, Hatred, Spite — do you hate criminals?”

Baeza pointed out that the investigators apparently had other priorities that did not include watching the 74-minute video.

“One of the things that struck me were the hundreds of pages of Facebook screenshots in the case file, which had nothing to do with solving this case. It had to do with people who were critiquing the Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office. I have never seen that before in all of the cases I have reviewed.”

Officials mum

Neither Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis nor Detective Kraft were willing to comment for this story.

“The Death Investigation you are speaking of is an open investigation; therefore, we are unable to participate in an interview at this time. The HCSO, as a whole, is declining to comment, as we do not comment on open investigations,” Denise M. Moloney, public relations manager for the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office, said via email.

Orlando lawyer Melissa Vickers, Durst’s defense attorney, did not return calls seeking her comments and an interview with her client.

Assistant State Attorney Peter Magrino, who declined to file charges in this case, did not respond to calls, emails or messages left with his secretary seeking his comments for this story.

Magrino’s boss, William Gladson, State Attorney for Florida’s Fifth Judicial District, wasn’t aware of the 74-minute tape or that it contained more than a dozen examples of mens rea. The State Attorney had never viewed the evidence.

“That would have been Mr. Magrino,” Gladson said. “He was assigned the case.”

Judy, Ariana and Edward Ptarcinski. (Photo courtesy Ptarcinski Family.)

Parents demand justice

“Ariana was smart, very talented, very quiet — the greatest kid,” said her father, Edward. “She was so happy. She wanted to be a nutritionist. We miss her every day. I cry every day. The pain is real. It hurts your heart. The last memory I have of her was to see her eyes — she was in so much pain — and I couldn’t help her. She had blood coming out of her mouth. Christmas will never be the same. Isabella, our 12-year-old is going through some serious issues. It’s all hitting her now.

“I want two things: I want justice for my daughter, because right now she’s not at peace. I also have a problem letting the Sheriff’s Office and prosecutor treat us like they did for two years. They treated us like the enemy. They always kicked us down. I don’t know how they can rest their heads at night.”

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