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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Healing for 'the walker' is proving a long road
The mentally disabled man often seen along county byways was savagely beaten and robbed.
By ERIN SULLIVAN, Times Staff Writer
Published December 8, 2007
John Kelly, 48, still can't chew or swallow food on his own. He's had pneumonia twice.
Anthony Hawkins, 17, entered a guilty plea Thursday. An attempted murder charge was dropped.
SPRING HILL -- More than two months after he was beaten so badly that every bone in his face was shattered, John Kelly is still fighting for his life.
Kelly, 48, a mentally challenged man known as "the walker" to motorists who often saw him roaming Hernando County roadways, still can't chew or swallow food on his own. His tracheotomy tube was removed Friday. He's had pneumonia twice, multiple surgeries, and now he's battling a staph infection. Visitors to his rehabilitation home must wear masks because Kelly's health is so fragile.
Three young men accused of putting Kelly in this condition are in the Hernando County Jail. One of them, Anthony Hawkins, 17, of Brooksville,entered a surprise guilty plea Thursday to charges of robbery with a weapon, conspiracy to commit robbery and evidence tampering.
Because of a lack of a criminal record and his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped a charge of attempted murder. Hawkins will be in the custody of the Department of Juvenile Justice, either in detention or on probation, until his 21st birthday.
The other two accused in the attack, Michael Vann, 23, and Jamie Tyson, 17, both of Brooksville, are charged with attempted murder among other charges. Their cases have been continued to January.
About 11 p.m. Sept. 19, as Kelly walked on the north side of Cortez Boulevard, three men ambushed him and beat him with a pipe. They stole his $100 and his backpack, and left him for dead in a ditch.
Kelly managed to stagger to a fire station on Ovenbird Road for help. He was flown to St. Joseph's Hospital in Tampa and stayed there for weeks.
His brother, George Kelly, said Friday he doesn't understand why the three men beat up John. John would have given them whatever they wanted, George said. "He can't fight back," George said. "He doesn't know how."
John Kelly lived alone in a mobile home on land given to him by his brother, who checked in on him regularly. George did John's laundry, fed him and drove around at night trying to find him when he had gone off walking somewhere.
It was hard to keep John at home. It was hard for George to get him to understand why walking alone at night makes him more vulnerable than he already is. George, 10 years older than John, has been watching over John since his brother was born. He moved John to Florida eight years ago after John was hit while riding a bicycle in New York.
George Kelly said he can't focus his anger on the men who nearly killed his brother. "I don't spend a lot of time dwelling," he said. "I can't be up all night, wishing these kids were dead."
Hopefully, John can beat this infection, get off his feeding tube and come home from the rehab center. George does think about the parents of the young men who did this.
"My heart goes out to them," he said. "Something in these kids went terribly wrong."