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'A disgrace to his badge' | Jacksonville homicide detective sentenced to life in prison for 1999 murder

Former JSO homicide detective William Baer, pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty. Judge said his police service only made his crime 'more horrific.'

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A decades old cold case in Jacksonville is finally closed.

Former JSO homicide detective, William Baer, pleaded guilty Tuesday to multiple crimes including first degree murder and kidnapping in a move to avoid the death penalty. He will serve three concurrent life sentences plus 15 years for his crimes.

In May 1999, convenience store owner Saad Kawaf was attacked by a man in his driveway in the Deerwood neighborhood on Jacksonville's Southside.

Kawaf's wife was also grabbed by a female attacker, dragged into the house and duct taped to a chair.  The pair of attackers repeatedly yelled at her they wanted money.  She told them where to find $30,000 the couple had in the house. 

Saad Kawaf died, but his wife survived the attack.

RELATED: Duval County grand jury indicts two men in 1990s murder cold cases

The State Attorney's Office says immediate family is still too traumatized by the murder to be in the courtroom Tuesday with Baer. So Kawaf's niece gave a statement on behalf of the family. 

She says she found out about his murder from a message on the answering machine when she was in 8th grade.

"My uncle was only 39 years old, three years older than I am today," she read. "He was robbed of his entire life ahead of him.... This isn't about closure. It never was and never could be. Justice matters, closure is impossible. Saad mattered and he always will."

The State Attorney's Office had said they were looking at going for the death penalty in the case against Baer if it went to trial, because once all the pieces came together, it was a pretty iron-clad case.

According to the arrest warrant for Baer, blood and nail clippings from the scene were run through genetic genealogy databases and lead current cold case detectives to William Baer and his now ex-wife, Melissa Jo Schafer.

Michael Baer, William Baer's son, addressed the court tooffer  condolences to the Kawaf family. He describes Melissa Jo Schafer as a "cancer" on his father. He describes her as manipulative and evil.

Recorded interrogations show Baer was at first defiant with cold case detectives at JSO, saying he had no idea who the victim was or why he was being investigated.  But Shafer flipped much faster, pleading guilty in December of last year and agreed to testify against Baer.  

After 22 years, the murder of Saad Kawaf is now officially solved and closed.