Joseph Bearden, the first of two men accused of the brutal killing of a Florida gay man, Ryan Skipper, has been convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to life in prison. He was also sentenced to 40 years for associated crimes, to be served concurrently. William David Brown Jr, also charged with the crime, is charged with murder in the first degree and will go on trial later this year. Brown is accused of actually wielding the knife that stabbed Skipper 19 times and then slit his neck.
While Florida has no provision for hate crime enhancements on murder (the penalty for which is already the max), the state made it clear that the fact that Bearden and Brown knew that Skipper was gay contributed heavily to their actions – it was a hate crime. Even Circuit Judge J. Michael Hunter had this to say in response to Bearden’s plea for leniency:
You were way more involved in this,” Hunter said. “He (Skipper) was killed because of the robbery, he was an easy target and he was gay.
Sadly, this case is marred by early leaks to the media by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office which were later determined to be false or uncorroborated. The defendants, in an apparent attempt to mitigate their own guilt, claimed that Skipper was looking for sex, taking illegal drugs with them and discussed some sort of check fraud scam for which no evidence was found. The SO later admitted this:
Sheriff’s Chief W. J. Martin acknowledges that what was said was based on comments from the two suspects. “Unfortunately, Ryan Skipper is not here to tell his side,” said Martin, who heads the agency’s criminal investigations bureau. “In these kind of cases you have two suspects trying to minimize their involvement to make themselves look better.”
There has been no apology to Skipper’s family and friends who all tell a consistent story of a wonderful young man just finding his way in the world when he was brutally murdered. Along with becoming financially responsible, and learning a trade at a local vocational school, Skipper had made peace with his faith.
Skipper was raised in the church and believed in God; he made peace with his faith and homosexuality in his own way,” she said. “I know his philosophy was that, ‘God’s not going to discriminate against me because of my sexuality.'”
See the Wikipedia entry for Ryan Skipper for what appears to be reasonably accurate information.