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Cedar Key man charged with first degree murder over neighbor death

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By Sean Arnold

An argument between neighbors turned deadly for a Cedar Key man.

According to the Levy County Sheriff’s Office, Cedar Key resident Matthew Whyte, 27, was arrested for first degree murder after he struck his neighbor, Thomas Rafferty, 55, twice with a board and drown him near the edge of a Cedar Key shoreline the night of Dec. 30.

Whyte was under the influence of methamphetamines, according to the report.

Earlier in the day, Whyte and Rafferty, Whyte’s roommate and another neighbor and acquaintance of the men, identified as the eyewitness to the deadly incident, were all hanging out together and having drinks at 3011 D Street (State Road 24). The witness reported having an argument with Whyte’s roommate which was broken up by Whyte. The suspect left the house for several hours and returned to find the victim encouraging the eyewitness to fight Whyte’s roommate, according to the report.

Whyte then punched Rafferty, prompting the eyewitness to separate the two. After the latter backed away, Whyte attacked Rafferty again, kicking him backwards through a doorway and onto a back deck at the two-story home, before then kicking him again off the deck about six-feet down into the shell-encrusted march area below. Whyte jumped down and picked up a board and struck Rafferty twice, the witness said, before dragging the victim to the water and holding his head face down until he drowned.

The Cedar Key Police Department was called to the scene and they discovered the victim’s body at the shoreline, arrested the suspect and detained two witnesses, before the Levy County Sheriff’s Office took over the investigation. Evidence at the scene and at the suspect’s home confirmed the eyewitness account.

Whyte was booked at the Levy County Detention Facility for First Degree Murder and is being held on no bond.

Rafferty was known around Cedar Key as a talented and well-liked repairman. A memorial service was held for him at First Baptist Church Cedar Key on Jan. 8.