A jury found two men guilty Friday of second-degree murder for the fatal beating of a homeless man when they were teenagers.
Thomas Daugherty, 19, and Brian Hooks, 21, were on trial in connection with three beatings of homeless men in January 2006. One of the victims, 45-year-old Norris Gaynor, died after he was attacked while he slept on a bench in Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
One of the nonfatal beatings was caught on surveillance video, which has been widely played in the media. On the video, two young men can be seen beating 60-year-old Jacques Pierre with bats in front of Florida Atlantic University in downtown Fort Lauderdale.
In addition to the second-degree murder conviction, Hooks and Daugherty were found guilty of two counts each of attempted second-degree murder with a weapon for beating the two homeless men who survived.
As the verdict was read, Hooks listened stoically and Daugherty held back tears. The parents of Gaynor, the victim who died, listened silently.
Daugherty cried after the verdict, shook prosecutors' hands and asked if he could speak to Gaynor's family. His attorney told him to wait for another time.
"He's filled with remorse and confusion," his attorney Michael Gottlieb said. Daugherty had a "sad upbringing" that played a role in his actions, Gottlieb said, and he planned to bring that up at sentencing on Oct. 22.
Family members of both defendants left without commenting. Hooks' family, including a young sister and a friend who studied with schoolbooks during court breaks, wept openly as Hooks was fingerprinted and led away.
"The convictions are on the son and on the family as well," Gottlieb said. "It's very hard for them."
Waiting three years for a verdict felt painfully long, the slain victim's mother, Georgia Gaynor, said during the first day of deliberations. The Gaynors also left Friday without comment.
"A verdict in any case, especially a murder case, where a man is murdered, is dead, you can't bring him back, is bittersweet," prosecutor Brian Cavanagh said. "No verdict changes that."
Prosecutors had sought first-degree murder charges against Hooks and Daugherty. After deliberating about nine hours over two days, the jury convicted them of lesser second-degree murder and two counts each of attempted second-degree murder. They could face life in prison.
Prosecutors said the teens were smoking marijuana and drinking vodka when they decided in the early hours of Jan. 12, 2006, to go cruising and "beat up some bums." They drove to three separate locations, first assaulting Pierre, who was captured on video.
The surveillance footage shows Pierre desperately trying to cover his body from numerous blows.
Defense attorneys had argued the teens never intended to kill Gaynor and urged the jury to consider a lesser charge of third-degree felony murder.
William Ammons, an alleged accomplice in the beatings, gave key testimony in the trial when he said he saw Hooks and Daugherty beat Gaynor to death. Ammons faced life in prison, but he has struck a deal with prosecutors to testify against Hooks and Daugherty in exchange for a lighter prison sentence.
The defense attorneys also tried to cast doubt on the testimony from Ammons, who pleaded guilty in May to felony murder and aggravated assault in the beatings. They said Ammons had a "biased interest to fabricate facts in the case to save" himself and has admitted lying to police 80 times.
Ammons will face between 10 and 20 years in prison. He is awaiting sentencing.
Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty against any of the three because Daugherty was 17 at the time and is ineligible for capital punishment.
Hooks and Daugherty will be sentenced in October. They could face life in prison. The prosecutor told Gaynor's family they can return at that time to tell the court about the loss they have endured and what it means to them.