Florida Men Indicted for Murder of Gay Man
Joseph Eli Bearden, 21, and William David Brown Jr., 20, the two men held in connection with the killing of Ryan Skipper, 25, which I posted about last week, were indicted yesterday on charges of first degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon. If convicted, both could face the death penalty.
Skipper's body was found by the side of the road with more than 20 stab wounds. His car and laptop had been stolen. The car was abandoned and recovered by authorites, who reported that the assailants had attempted to set it on fire but did not succeed. They had also cut out a seat belt because it was so bloody they couldn't clean it.
Lakeland, Florida's The Ledger published a profile on Ryan Skipper today, along with a detailed timeline of the events which allegedly lead up to the young man's murder.
According to The Ledger, "Though the Sheriff's Office is investigating Skipper's murder as a hate crime, that fact will not weigh on the prosecution of Brown and Bearden. Designating a crime as hate-motivated is a 'sentencing enhancement,' not a separate charge, which means it makes the punishment more severe for the crime committed, Chip Thullbery, spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, said Wednesday. In Florida, the designation doesn't apply to life or capital felonies because the punishments for those charges - either life in prison or execution - are the most severe, and therefore can not be enchanced. 'There is no such thing as a hate crime first-degree murder, by the law,' he said."
Many of the details offered by the defendants in the case have been disputed by those who knew Skipper well — that he was out looking to pick someone up, and that he had smoked marijuana and laid out a plan to commit check fraud with Skipper's laptop computer.
The Ledger: "[Skipper's best friend Stephanie] Strickland disputes this account, saying that Skipper did not use illegal drugs and did not own a laptop computer. It is a portrayal that has deeply hurt Strickland, who said her friend was simply too trusting and naive. Instead of Skipper picking up Bearden, a more likely scenario, she said, is that Brown was waiting for Skipper when he arrived home. She said Brown knew a previous tenant at the house, and had come looking for him soon after Skipper moved in. Strickland said Skipper's roommates told her that Brown, who lives two blocks away from Skipper's home, had since come around several times on a bicycle in the weeks before Skipper's death, asking about him, what he was doing, when he would come home. 'The only thing I can understand about it is that he trusted these people enough to give them a ride somewhere," she said.'"
A co-worker and friend, Karl von Hahmann, told The Ledger that Skipper had entered a particularly solid period in his life: "He...mentioned to me that he was the happiest he had ever been. Things were just starting to go right for him. He had just come into a comfort zone that was unbelievable."
An arraignment date has not yet been set for the two killers.
Two Held in Brutal Murder of Gay Florida Man [tr]