tampabay.com

Teens won't face death penalty

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published January 6, 2007


FORT LAUDERDALE - None of three teenagers charged with beating a homeless man to death with a baseball bat will get the death penalty if convicted, state prosecutors said Friday.

William Ammons and Brian Hooks, both 19, were eligible for the death penalty in the attack last January on Norris Gaynor, 45, as he slept on a park bench. But the third defendant, Thomas Daugherty, was only 17 then and cannot be executed because of his age.

"As a matter of proportion, it would have been improper" to seek the death penalty for just the other two, said Brian Cavanagh, the assistant state attorney prosecuting the case.

All three now face possible punishment of life in prison if convicted of first-degree murder for killing Gaynor. They also are charged with attempted murder in the beatings the same night of two other homeless men, one of which was recorded on a surveillance camera and broadcast around the world, helping detectives crack the case.

"I'm thrilled" about the prosecutor' decision, said Ammons' attorney, Sam Halpern. "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 be executed. And the Florida Supreme Court 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 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. Ammons, they said, fired pellets from a paintball gun at Gaynor but did not inflict fatal injuries.

"Death cases ... 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.