OCTOBER 13, 2012 http://staugustine.com
Timothy Wayne Fletcher took his time shuffling toward the bench Friday, perhaps wondering if they would be his last shackled steps before becoming a condemned man.
About 40 minutes later, his fears were confirmed.
Judge Wendy Berger cited the heinous nature of his crime before handing Fletcher, 28, a sentence of death for the murder of Helen Googe in April 2009.
“The aggravating factors far outweigh the mitigating circumstances,” Berger said.
In fact, Berger went further, saying the aggravating factor of the crime being “heinous, atrocious and cruel” by itself was enough to outweigh the 15 mitigating factors that she outlined before giving her sentencing ruling.
Describing the crime, Berger said she gave great weight to the testimony of doctors about the horrible experience of a victim being strangled to death as Googe was. She mentioned the testimony’s indication of the victim’s consciousness at the time of the strangulation. Berger made a point of the physician’s statement that the victim surely experienced a sense of impending doom.“There can be no doubt this murder was conscious and pitiless,” Berger said.
By the time Berger had given her ruling, Fletcher had been standing in front of the courtroom next to attorney Garry Wood, listening to the judge detail the horrors of the crime and then the aggravating and mitigating circumstances.
When it was finished, Fletcher’s eyes were red, and his face clearly bore the weight of the decision, but he showed no other emotion and said nothing in front of the court. The courtroom, crowded with law enforcement officers and family members, remained mostly silent, even after the sentence was announced.
Fletcher’s hearing wrapped up the two-defendant case. The co-defendant, Doni Ray Brown, accepted an offer of life in prison with no possibility for parole and entered a plea of no contest for first-degree murder.
Brown and Fletcher broke out of jail in Putnam County on April 15, 2009, stole a vehicle and then went to the home of Googe to rob her.
When she claimed not to have the large amount of cash the men were demanding, they beat her and eventually strangled her.
Fletcher and Brown fled the state but were later apprehended when they returned to Florida.
Berger noted that in interviews with investigators, Fletcher had repeatedly denied being the one who actually committed the murder, blaming it on Brown. He eventually admitted to holding Googe down while Brown finished the killing.
In no way did that absolve Fletcher from the full responsibility of the crime, the state argued.
“It is clear from the facts of this case that the defendant showed no mercy to the victim during the brutally violent robbery and murder,” State Attorney R.J. Larizza said in a statement. “It is fitting that he received no mercy from the court when he was sentenced today.”
The death penalty was sought because Fletcher was the mastermind of the escape and robbery.
The forensic evidence also implicated Fletcher in the struggle with Googe before her death.
“It was the defendant, not Doni Brown, with scratches on his arms,” Berger said. “It was the defendant who killed her.”
Before Berger started reading her decision, Wood mentioned the Brown sentencing and said that Fletcher would have accepted a similar offer if one had been offered before trial.
Berger said that she gave Brown’s sentence “great weight” in deciding Fletcher’s fate. In fact, it was the only mitigating factor that she gave more than moderate weight to.
Among the issues she considered were Fletcher’s long-term substance abuse problems, his dysfunctional family life and behavior at his original trial.
In May, a jury found Fletcher guilty on all counts as charged in the murder of Googe and the crimes related to the defendant’s jail escape in April 2009. Fletcher was found guilty of escape, a second-degree felony; grand theft motor vehicle, a third-degree felony; first-degree murder, a capital felony; home invasion robbery, a first-degree felony; and grand theft motor vehicle, a third-degree felony.
On Friday, Putnam County Circuit Judge Carlos Mendoza sentenced Brown, 26, to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Brown pleaded no contest.