Teen Convicted of Tourist Attack in Third Trial
PENSACOLA, Fla. (AP) _ A teen-ager was convicted of first-degree murder Saturday in the 1993 killing of a British tourist at a highway rest stop, one of a series of crimes that drove visitors away from Florida.
Juries in two earlier trials deadlocked on whether to convict John ``Billy Joe″ Crumitie in the slaying of Gary Colley during a bungled robbery at an Interstate 10 rest stop near Monticello, about 35 miles east of Tallahassee.
As the verdict from the mostly white jury was read, Crumitie, 18, who is black, put his head down on the table with a soft thump.
``It’s horrible, It’s horrible,″ said Crumitie’s mother, Susie Mae Johnson, blaming the conviction on a change of venue to Pensacola. ``The town ain’t nothing but a damn redneck town and Monticello is just the damn same.″
Four blacks were on the Monticello jury that voted 11-1 in favor of conviction, and three were on the second panel in Gainesville that split 9-3 for conviction. In both trials, jurors questioned the credibility of several witnesses and cited a lack of physical evidence.
The guns used in the attack were never found and no fingerprints were found on the stolen car used in the botched robbery.
Defense lawyer Dwight Wells plans to seek a new trial on grounds that only five blacks were in the 50-member pool from which the jury was selected.
The jury was made up of two blacks _ a man and a woman _ two white men, seven white women and an Asian woman. Escambia County, where the trial was held, is 20 percent black.
Wells also had challenged the pool before jury selection began Monday, but Circuit Judge Nikki Clark rejected his motion because he failed to demonstrate blacks were systematically excluded.
Crumitie testified he was was home asleep when Colley, 34, was killed. Colley’s longtime companion, 37-year-old Margaret Jagger, was wounded in the Sept. 14, 1993, shooting. She declined to comment following the verdict.
``I’m relieved it’s all over,″ said Colley’s mother, Brenda Armitage. ``The last two years have been very hard.″
Two co-defendants testified that Crumitie had participated in the shooting. Also, rest stop attendant Donald Spivey identified him as one of the assailants, and four other witnesses said he confessed to them.
Assistant State Attorney Michael Schneider said he believed the outcome was different this time because ``the witnesses were better.″ He said they appeared to be more comfortable in a smaller courtroom.
Schneider singled out Spivey, whose testimony was bolstered by the first-time introduction of a police composite drawing based on his description of one of the suspects. It bears a likeness to Crumitie.
Wells claimed the identification was flawed because the face has close-cropped hair and no cap. Other witnesses testified Crumitie, whose hair was short during the trial, had dreadlocks at the time of the shooting and the attackers were wearing ball caps.
The latest jury deliberated nearly three hours Saturday before finding Crumitie guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, attempted armed robbery, robbery and shooting into an occupied vehicle.
The state isn’t seeking the death penalty, so Crumitie faces life in prison without parole for at least 25 years on the murder conviction alone. Clark set sentencing for Oct. 19.
Deliberations began Friday, but were stopped when a juror, a second Asian woman, became ill and was dismissed. Clark called an alternate, a white man, back to the court as a replacement, and the jury started over Saturday.
The death of Colley, one of 10 foreigners slain in Florida during a 12-month period, spurred intense publicity. International tourism to Florida dropped 12 percent the next year. The state posted armed guards at interstate rest areas and created a Department of Juvenile Justice.
In closing arguments, defense lawyers focused on the deals that criminals were given for their testimony implicating Crumitie.
Wells accused those witnesses of lying to help themselves, and said the prosecution made ``a deal with the devil.″
Crumitie’s hairdresser, his neighbor and two jail inmates said he admitted his guilt to them. Co-defendants Aundra Akins, 16, and Deron ``Lowlife″ Spear, 18, testified Crumitie participated in the crime with them. They have not been sentenced yet.
Akins, who admitted shooting Colley, was allowed to plead guilty to second-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder with a sentence of no more than 40 years.
Spear pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and accessory after the fact to murder with the promise of a 10-year cap. He said he drove the getaway car.