IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Florida men guilty in homeless beating death

A jury has found two men guilty of fatally beating a homeless man with a baseball bat and viciously attacking two others.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Two men were convicted Friday of killing a homeless man with a baseball bat and viciously attacking two others in 2006. One of the beatings was captured on videotape, outraging homeless advocates nationwide.

Prosecutors sought first-degree murder charges against Brian Hooks, 21, and Thomas Daugherty, 19. After deliberating about nine hours over two days, a jury convicted them of lesser second-degree murder and two counts each of attempted second-degree murder. They could face life in prison.

Prosecutors repeatedly played the surveillance video, which shows a surviving victim desperately trying to cover his body from numerous blows. At closing arguments, prosecutors also presented baseball bats similar to the ones the defendants used, describing how the men hid the bats in their pants and sneaked up on defenseless victims like 45-year-old Norris Gaynor, who was sleeping on a park bench when he was beaten to death.

Daugherty cried after the verdict, shook prosecutors' hands and asked if he could speak to Gaynor's family. His attorney told him to wait for another time.

"He's filled with remorse and confusion," his attorney Michael Gottlieb said. Daugherty had a "sad upbringing" that played a role in his actions, Gottlieb said, and he planned to bring that up at sentencing on Oct. 22.

Family members of both defendants left without commenting. Hooks' family, including a young sister and a friend who studied with school books during court breaks, wept openly as Hooks was fingerprinted and led away.

"The convictions are on the son and on the family as well," Gottlieb said. "It's very hard for them."

'Can't bring him back'
Waiting three years for a verdict felt painfully long, the slain victim's mother, Georgia Gaynor, said during the first day of deliberations. The Gaynors also left Friday without comment.

"A verdict in any case, especially a murder case, where a man is murdered, is dead, you can't bring him back, is bittersweet," prosecutor Brian Cavanagh said. "No verdict changes that."

Defense attorneys had argued the teens never intended to kill Gaynor and were only out to "beat up some bums" that night, as horrible as it sounded.

A third defendant, William Ammons, 21, pleaded guilty in May to felony murder and aggravated assault in the beatings and awaits a sentence from 10 to 20 years. He testified against Hooks and Daugherty, but defense attorneys cast doubt on his wishy-washy statements saying he had a "biased interest to fabricate facts in the case to save" himself and has admitted lying to police 80 times.

Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against any of the three because Daugherty was 17 at the time and is ineligible for capital punishment.

Cruising for bums
Prosecutors said the teens were smoking marijuana and drinking vodka when they decided in the early hours of Jan. 12, 2006, to go cruising and "beat up some bums." They drove to three separate locations, first assaulting Jacques Pierre, 61, who was captured on video.

The ferocity of the assaults shocked homeless advocates, who said the video showed the dangers faced every night by those living on the streets.

Ammons confessed to hitting a third man, 51-year-old Raymond Perez, with a plastic sword and admitted he fired shots from a paintball gun at Gaynor. But a prosecutor said Ammons did not hit anyone with a baseball bat or other deadly weapon, a key factor in his plea to lesser charges.

During closing arguments, prosecutors rolled in the park bench where Gaynor was sleeping, showing how the defendants sneaked up on him and beat him so badly they broke his nose, five ribs and crushed his skull.

"Instead of being used for the fun and joy of playing baseball, the bats were used for the perverted fun, and despicable joy of dashing in the skulls of other human beings," Cavanagh said.