Teens Murdered Homeless Man

Samuel Gaynor had awaited this moment for nearly three years: to hear the word “guilty” directed at the two Broward teens accused of beating his son, Norris Gaynor, to death with baseball bats.
But when the verdict was read Friday — second-degree murder convictions for Thomas Daugherty and Brian Hooks — Gaynor didn’t flinch in his front-row seat in a Fort Lauderdale courtroom.
He didn’t smile or cry. Gaynor didn’t even look at the young men who split his 45-year-old son’s skull and pummeled his face to the point it was so swollen and bruised that he was almost unrecognizable. With a quiet strength, Gaynor just walked out.
“There is no glee here. Justice will never be served,” said Gaynor, 77. “Life is too important to equate to the decision of 12 people.”
Hooks, 21, and Daugherty, 19, now face the prospect of life in prison at their sentencings on Oct. 22 and 23. The two friends also were convicted of second-degree attempted murder for their roles in two other attacks on homeless men on Jan. 12, 2006.
As the jury’s decision was read aloud, Daugherty’s face and eyes flushed red, quickly followed by tears. He looked over to his mother, who was sitting only a few feet away. She had already broken into tears.
“Thomas, keep your chin up,” she whispered as the court deputy arrived to put handcuffs on her son. She then clinched her fist and mouthed, “Be strong.”
Hooks, as he had all through the trial, gave the jury a blank, emotionless stare as his judgment was read. His family rushed out of the courtroom.
“Any verdict is bittersweet in these types of cases,” Broward Assistant State Attorney Brian Cavanagh said. “A person was murdered. No verdict will change that.”
In a case that made international headlines, it took the jury two days to come to a consensus that Hooks and Daugherty were guilty of murder. But they rejected the first-degree murder charge, which requires premeditation.
Still, the verdict was a win for homeless people, who are often the target of violent crimes in Florida, local homeless advocates said Friday.
Florida is well on its way to leading the nation in violent crimes against the homeless for the third consecutive year, said Laura Hansen, CEO of the South Florida Coalition for the Homeless.
“This verdict is surprising,” she said. “We’re not used to seeing homeless people receiving justice in these situations. We hope this sends the message that picking on the homeless will not be tolerated.”
Defense attorneys argued that the two young men were high on marijuana and drunk on vodka when they decided it would be fun to “go beat up some bums.” Defense attorneys admitted the teens had an agreement to commit what amounted to aggravated battery, but they argued they never intended to kill anyone that night.
Key to the verdict may have been surveillance video of the first attack at Florida Atlantic University’s downtown Fort Lauderdale campus.
The video shows Daugherty and Hooks relentlessly attacking Jacques Pierre with baseball bats, hitting the homeless man at least seven times on or near the head. Pierre suffered skull fractures and deep lacerations.
The video was released by police just hours after the attack, and its graphic nature pushed it to the front of newscasts around the world. It helped police capture Hooks and Daugherty, but the intense media attention also made it difficult to find 12 people to sit on a jury.
Jurors saw the video nearly a dozen times during trial, asked to see it twice during the first hours of deliberations and may have watched it other times as they decided the teens’ fates. Jurors contacted after the verdict declined to comment.
The “instant replay,” as prosecutors dubbed it, may have provided jurors a visual image for the fatal attack on Gaynor, which was described in great detail by the state’s key witness, William Ammons.
Ammons, who was also charged in the beatings, pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for his testimony and a shorter sentence. He pegged Daugherty and Hooks as the ones who smashed Gaynor’s skull as he slept on a bench in Esplanade Park.
After the verdict, defense attorneys admitted they had faced an uphill battle.
Hooks and Daugherty “did horrific, foolish and stupid things that night,” said Michael Gottlieb, Daugherty’s attorney. “Thomas is filled with remorse and confusion right now. I’m saddened the jury saw it as second-degree murder, but we respect their decision.”
In an unusual gesture, Daugherty shook the hands of prosecutors Cavanagh and Peter Holden, the men who could recommend he spend the rest of his life in prison.
Daugherty also wanted to address the Gaynors, Gottlieb said, but his attorney told him to do it at another time, likely at sentencing.
He may find listening ears.
“The deed has been done, but the good book says you have to forgive,” said Georgia Gaynor, Norris Gaynor’s mother. “I’m glad it’s over and now we can get on with our lives. I just wanted it over.”
By Todd Wright
Miami Herald
Video by (SunSentinel)