State seeks life terms in slaying
Published: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 6, 2007 at 12:01 a.m.
FORT LAUDERDALE — Three teenagers charged with beating a homeless man to death with a baseball bat as he slept on a park bench won't face the death penalty if convicted, state prosecutors said Friday.
William Ammons and Brian Hooks, both 19, were eligible for the death penalty in the killing last January of Norris Gaynor, 45. But because the third defendant, Thomas Daugherty, was only 17 at the time and cannot be executed because of his age, prosecutors decided not to seek capital punishment for any of them.
"As a matter of proportion, it would have been improper for the death penalty to be sought," said Brian Cavanagh, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case.
The trio will now face maximum punishment of life in prison if convicted on first-degree murder charges for the killing of Gaynor. They are also charged with attempted murder in the beatings the same night of two other homeless men, one of which was captured on a surveillance camera and broadcast around the world, helping detectives crack the case.
The parents of Hooks and Ammons declined comment on the state's decision not to seek the death penalty. But their lawyers said the decision was proper.
"It takes courage. They didn't just do something that would have been politically expedient," said attorney Sam Halpern, who represents Ammons. "I'm thrilled. He's been living under the shadow of a possible death sentence for about a year. It's nice to have that monkey off his back."
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that people convicted of crimes committed when they were under age 18 cannot face execution. The Florida Supreme Court also has ruled that people involved in a crime to a lesser degree than others cannot face a harsher penalty.
Cavanagh said that principle was a key factor in the decision.
The videotaped beating shows Daugherty striking the victim with a baseball bat while the others cheered him on, and other evidence shows that he also was the one who struck blows on Gaynor.
Hooks had a bat but did not use it on Gaynor and was mainly seen trying to "egg on" Daugherty, prosecutors said in a memo explaining their decision. Ammons, they said, fired pellets from a paintball gun at Gaynor but did not inflict fatal injuries.
"Death cases are different and they are analyzed in a very scrupulous manner by the appellate courts," Cavanagh said. "A death sentence in this case would not be upheld."
No trial date has been scheduled. All three defendants have pleaded not guilty and are being held without bail.
Prosecutors also continue to investigate links between the three and other attacks on homeless people in Broward County.
Cavanagh told Circuit Judge Cynthia G. Imperato that he wants to have Hooks, Ammons and Daugherty appear in a lineup for possible identification by victims and witnesses in other crimes.
Imperato set a hearing for next Friday on that issue after defense attorneys objected.
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