Vince Breunig has his best friend's image tattooed on his body. Her name was Rachel Hoffman — and Vince was one of the last friends she saw before she was murdered acting as a police informant.

Vince and Rachel were extremely close. They referred to each other as brother and sister. They grew up together, and they went to college together at Florida State University in Tallahassee. They smoked weed together; they sold weed together, too.

“I’m not going to say she didn’t sell drugs … because she did. I did. We all did,” Vince tells us. “You make a couple extra hundred bucks, and you get high for free.”

Rachel’s Murder

One day, a friend of Rachel’s got caught with possession of marijuana, and pointed police to Rachel as the supplier. The Tallahassee Police Department then raided Rachel’s apartment, uncovering a quarter pound baggie of pot along with several Valium and ecstasy pills. If charged and convicted, Rachel faced a possible 4-year prison sentence.

But police offered her a way out. If she became a confidential informant, they told her no charges would be filed at all. They planned to use Rachel as a tool to pursue a few high-level dealers in the Tallahassee scene.

The day before the operation, Rachel called Vince. “I thought it was odd because she was arrested on probation,” he says. “Ordinarily, she shouldn’t have been released until she was seen before a judge, but she was out of jail so quickly, and that made me suspicious. At the time, I was still selling (marijuana), so I was paranoid. Half of me knew she would never put me in harm’s way, but the other half of me thought she was working for the cops.”

She was, and when Vince agreed to meet Rachel in person, she confessed as much. “She told me she’s going to set up two guys from her neighborhood,” Vince says. The two young men were convicted felons she’d never known or met before. She’d also never fired a gun or handled a massive stash of hard drugs, yet police wanted her to purchase “1,500 Ecstasy pills, a couple ounces of cocaine, and a handgun,” Vince recalls and news coverage verifies.

Copping such a stockpile of narcotics was a big step up for a small-time weed dealer, Vince adds: “The girl sold pot! She wasn’t a mafioso."

But on the day of the big sting, the officers gave her $13,000 in marked bills, strapped a wire to her, and sent her to meet the two men alone. Police told her she’d be protected, but within an hour, they’d lost track of her and her car. They later blamed Rachel, who agreed to follow the men to a new meet-up location. Once there, Rachel was shot five times in the head and chest with the gun that police had sent her to buy.

Rachel’s Friends and Family

“Knowing that she’d confided in me what she was going to be doing and knowing that she got killed in the process … it fucked me up,” Vince says. “It had a serious impact on the rest of my life. It’s not like she was killed in some terrible accident, like a drunk driving incident. She was kidnapped and murdered … She was shot in the face twice.”

Rachel’s body was found two days later in a dry creek bed outside of Perry, Florida, a small rural town about 50 miles south of Tallahassee. She’d been veiled under her Grateful Dead sweatshirt and an orange and purple sleeping bag.

In the various media stories that covered Rachel’s murder, like the Tallahassee Democrat, 20/20 and Dateline NBC, the media portrayed to the public that the men executed Rachel only after discovering she was a police informant. However, Vince has a different theory.

Even if the two men never found her wire, “I’m fairly certain that they were going to kill her anyway,” Vince asserts. “The whole time, they were planning on robbing her and killing her. They didn’t bring any drugs at all. They probably said to themselves, ‘Here’s this little college girl coming with a bunch of cash. It’ll be an easy 13 grand.’”

As for Rachel's parents, in the agonizing months following her death, they began writing out lists of inexplicable questions, such as: “Why was Rachel used in such a high-risk police sting when she had no training? Why was she sent to buy a semi-automatic pistol when she had never even fired a weapon? Why was she pressured into taking part in the operation before she consulted a lawyer?”

Rachel’s Law

Her parents’ laundry list of unanswered questions soon transformed into a wish list of legal reforms, which they named “Rachel’s Law.” The legislation they envisioned would require that informants, even if they’re never formally arrested or charged with a crime, are given the same right to an attorney; it would require that juveniles can never be used as informants; and it would require that low-level drug offenders can not be used to catch dealers with histories of violence.

After one year of fighting law enforcement lobbying, a revised version of “Rachel’s Law” passed the Florida legislature unanimously. Shortly after, her parents won a $2.6 million settlement from the city of Tallahassee in a wrongful death lawsuit.

But Rachel’s parents weren’t the only ones who police had wronged. Shortly after Rachel went missing, Tallahassee authorities began harassing Vince as well. “The police came to my apartment two days after her murder. They wanted a statement, and they wanted Rachel’s whereabouts," Vince says. "But because I’d also been dealing, I was terrified that I was going to get in trouble too. My family told me I needed to get out of Tallahassee immediately. So I dropped out of school, because I was in fear for my safety and in fear of getting into legal trouble.”

“I moved back home, and I’d say that’s when I went off the deep-end. I turned to drugs as a coping mechanism, to numb myself from those traumatic experiences,” Vince says. He’s been struggling with addiction ever since.

But Vince has been clean for a year now. And although the death of his best friend still haunts him, his skin bears a permanent reminder of the beautiful young woman she once was. “She had such a promising future, but she was killed because the police coerced her into doing their dirty work,” Vince says.

Though in some small, mildly consoling way, she lives on through Rachel’s Law, a mandate anticipated to protect future police informants from the same devastating exploitation.

[photo credits: CBS News, LadyBud and ABC News // originally published September 14, 2017]