June 13, 2012 Source : http://www.palatkadailynews.com
ST. AUGUSTINE – Convicted killer Timothy Wayne Fletcher should be executed for choking his step-grandmother after a jailbreak, a jury says.
It took the jury an hour to reach the decision Tuesday afternoon, faster than the 98 minutes it took them to find Fletcher guilty of murder and other crimes during a 2009 spree.
The jury voted 8-4 in favor of the death penalty.
“We’re very happy that the jury saw it the way we saw it and that is that the death penalty is appropriate for this case,” Assistant State Attorney Mark Johnson said.
Fletcher was convicted May 25 of killing Helen Key Googe, 66.
The jury’s recommendation of the death penalty concluded a two-day penalty hearing at the St. Johns County courthouse, where the trial was moved because of publicity.
Fletcher, dressed in a white shirt, tie and dark slacks, showed little reaction to the decision.
Several relatives of Googe quietly cried as the stressful first-degree murder trial inched to a close.
Security was heightened for the announcement. Nine deputy sheriffs took up positions near Fletcher before the jury returned to Berger’s courtroom.
As he stood, Fletcher appeared tense. He looked around at the small crowd seated in the courtroom.
Googe, 66, was slain in her home in Bardin, where Fletcher told investigators later he believed she kept several thousand dollars. During video-taped questoning after his capture, Fletcher blamed Googe for her murder, saying she would have left alive had she not fought.
“She was fighting and kicking the whole time,” he said. “She never did quit fighting.”
Authorities say Fletcher stole a jack from a jail transport van and smuggled it into the jail, which he and cellmate Doni Ray Brown used to move a plumbing fixture from the wall.
The pair used the utility corridor behind the wall to reach an inadequately secured door and fled the jail about 2 a.m. on April 15, 2009.
Once outside the jail, they broke into and tried to steal a pickup and van before finding a pickup with keys in it at a tire shop, then drove to Googe’s house.
Fletcher was convicted of escape, first-degree murder, home invasion robbery, grand theft of a motor vehicle and burglary of motor vehicles.
Murder and other charges are pending against Brown.
Fletcher and Brown’s escape highlighted massive problems in the county jail, including security failures, overcrowding and shoddy maintenance.
An investigation cited personnel issues at the jail and resulted in several disciplinary actions after the escape. Paula Carter, the major in charge of the jail, retired. One corrections deputy was fired and seven others were disciplined.
Fletcher consumed methamphetamine inside the jail in the days leading to the jailbreak, according to testimony.
Fletcher and Brown were apprehended at Pomona Park after a massive manhunt three days after their escape.
A majority of the jurors rejected arguments by defense attorney Garry Wood that Fletcher should be spared and sentenced to life in prison. Wood said Fletcher suffered from mental illness and had a history of drug and alcohol abuse dating to adolescence.
Fletcher had a troubled childhood marked by domestic violence, Wood said.
“All of these things together matter,” he said.
Wood described Fletcher as “a mentally ill, abused person.”
Johnson, however, said Fletcher’s actions deserved the ultimate punishment.
“He wrapped his fingers around her neck and squeezed harder and harder,” Johnson said. “Justice cries out that he be sentenced to death.”
The jury’s recommendation of the death penalty triggers another pre-sentence hearing, this time without the jury, likely to be held in July.