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Shooter pleads guilty in slaying of Nassau County deputy

Patrick Rene McDowell
State Attorney's Office
Patrick Rene McDowell

The man who shot and killed a Nassau County sheriff's deputy after a traffic stop in 2021 has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and could face the death penalty, according to the State Attorney’s Office.

Patrick Rene McDowell, 36, also pleaded guilty early Friday to injuring a police dog and eight more counts of aggravated assault of a police officer, prosecutors said.

Jury selection for the penalty phase is set for Sept. 8. McDowell deserves the ultimate penalty, Sheriff Bill Leeper told WJCT News.

"This is a death penalty case, and that’s exactly what he should get," Leeper said in brief statement. "Even though it won’t bring Josh back, this cold-blooded cop killer deserves nothing less than what Deputy Moyers received."

Prosecutors agreed.

“McDowell’s guilty plea is a testament to the exceptional work of law enforcement," State Attorney Melissa Nelson said in a statement. "This a positive step toward justice for Deputy Moyers, his family and Nassau County. Today’s plea does not alter our course — the state will continue to seek the death penalty for this heinous crime.”

Deputy Joshua Moyers, 29, was shot in the face and back after he stopped a minivan at 2:30 a.m. Sept. 23 about 3 miles south of Callahan on Sandy Ford Road. A second deputy found Moyers wounded on the ground; the minivan, stolen in Jacksonville, was found abandoned nearby. Moyers died a few days later.

Court documents released in June indicate that McDowell and a woman had gone to Georgia earlier that day so "they could ride trails and shoot guns." After McDowell realized they were being pulled over, the woman, whose name was omitted from reports, said he told her "I'm not stopping. I'm not going to jail," according to court documents.

She said she told him, "You should probably stop," so he did. When Moyers asked for registration and IDs, McDowell gave him a bogus name, the documents said. The deputy then asked McDowell whether he had any weapons and to get out of the vehicle, according to the documents.

Nassau County Sheriff's Deputy Joshua Moyers.
Nassau County Sheriff's Office
Nassau County Sheriff's Deputy Joshua Moyers.

McDowell then shot Moyers in the face and shot him again as he was collapsing. The woman said she could not believe what she saw, "or maybe just wish I didn't." McDowell shot "the poor innocent man with his whole life ahead of him," she said.

Multiple police agencies hunted for McDowell after the shooting, at one point engaging him in a gun battle that left him and a Jacksonville Sheriff's Office dog injured. McDowell ultimately was caught Sept. 28 hiding in the Callahan Little League concession stand off River Road, according to Leeper.

McDowell was taken to a hospital for injuries he received during his arrest and the earlier gun battle, officials said. Breiana Elizabeth Tole was also charged as an accessory after coming to his location and trying to get him out of the area, officials said. She pleaded guilty on Aug. 2 to accessory after the fact, court records said.

Moyers buried Oct. 2, 2021, at Oakwood Cemetery in Hilliard after private services at Callahan First Baptist Church.

Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years as a radio, television and print reporter in the Jacksonville area, as well as years of broadcast work in the Northeast. You can reach Dan at, (904) 607-2770 or on Twitter at @scanlan_dan.