Hughes indicted for murder of ‘Prairie Jen’

A grand jury met on Tuesday, June 11, and returned an indictment charging Kevin Franklin Hughes with first degree murder in the death of his wife, Jennifer Minnette Benson-Hughes.

“Prairie Jen” was instrumental in bringing a Dark Sky designation to the Prairie Preserve State Park.

On Friday, April 19, the Okeechobee County Sheriff’s Office received a 911 call purportedly from Hughes, 34. The caller claimed his wife tried to kill him but that he thought she was dead. When OCSO deputies responded to the 911 call, they found Mrs. Benson-Hughes lying in the front yard, deceased. Detective Jose Garduno arrested Hughes in the strangulation death of his wife, and he was transported to the Okeechobee County Jail.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
There wasn’t much “Prairie Jen” wouldn’t do if it would help the wildlife on the prairie.

Jen Benson-Hughes was a biologist at the Kissimmee Prairie Preserve State Park. She was lovingly known as “Prairie Jen,” and it was she who spearheaded the movement to have the park recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as Florida’s first Dark Sky Park in 2016. After working on it for years, her friends say it was one of her proudest moments.

Another of her passions was saving the critically endangered Florida grasshopper sparrow. There are fewer than 80 of the sparrows in the wild — residing exclusively in remote, open spaces of southern Central Florida, and there are fewer than 70 in captivity.

Prairie Jen was considered a “Force of Nature” by those who knew her, and the park and those who live and work out there are still reeling from the loss.

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