Man found guilty in sons' deaths
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001
MIAMI -- A man accused of driving his former girlfriend's sport utility vehicle into a canal, killing their two sons, was found guilty of second-degree murder Thursday, avoiding the death penalty.
Kirk Douglas Billie, 32, a Miccosukee Indian, denied knowing that the boys were asleep on the back seat of the Chevrolet Tahoe that he commandeered from their babysitter and dumped on the edge of the reservation on June 27, 1997.
The jury of seven women and five men deliberated nearly eight hours over two days.
After the verdict was read, Billie shrugged and smiled. Afterward, he walked over to where his parents sat and spoke softly in their native Miccosukee language.
He then stood blank-faced while a bailiff fingerprinted him and led him away.
"It's hard to understand why a man could smile under these circumstances," said lead prosecutor Reid Rubin. "It's his children who are dead."
A sentencing date was not set.
Defense attorney Ed O'Donnell said he and Billie were elated that Billie escaped a first-degree murder conviction.
O'Donnell said he is confident Billie will get a new trial, saying evidence that Billie beat previous girlfriends with a baseball bat and broomstick should not have been allowed in court.
The abuse evidence "allowed them to slime him," O'Donnell said.
Prosecutors sought the maximum penalty against Billie, saying he murdered 5-year-old Kurt and 3-year-old Keith to punish their mother for rejecting and disobeying him.
Second-degree murder carries a penalty of up to life in prison.
"We did not find that the prosecution had reached the threshold for first-degree murder," said jury foreman Kevin McFall. "We didn't find the premeditation that they were striving for."
Juror Lisa Oberlander said no one supported an acquittal, but the 12-member jury was split among four possible convictions, including manslaughter.
The Miccosukees attempted to thwart the prosecution, arguing that it violated the sovereignty of the 500-member tribe by trying to impose what a tribal leader called "white man's justice." Tribal leaders forgave Billie, and the victims' families shook on it.
In closing arguments, Rubin accused Billie of lying during his four days on the stand and charged, "He stood there and watched them dying a horrible death out of spite."
Defense attorney Diane Ward called the deaths "a tragic, tragic accident." She noted Billie had been told by the boys' mother, Sheila Tiger, that they were asleep at her mother's house that night.
Oberlander felt Billie lied and was pompous and arrogant on the stand, but she said she didn't hold his personality or evidence that he beat girlfriends against him on the murder charge.
Rubin said he was disappointed that the jury didn't return a first-degree murder conviction but he was "somewhat satisfied" based on the limitations placed by the tribe on access to witnesses.
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire