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Jury votes 11-1 for death penalty

Posted - Friday, May 10, 2013 04:05 PM EDT



Jonathan LeBaron reacts to the guilty verdict in courtroom. On Friday, jury recommended LeBaron face the dealth penalty. Judge Mark Jones will make the final determination.

By a vote of 11-1 a Key West jury on Friday recommended to Monroe County Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones that Jonathan Leo LeBaron should face the death penalty.

Last week, the same jury found LeBaron guilty of premeditated murder in the Feb. 10, 2009, beating death of 57-year-old Richard Gardner aboard the latter's boat, Flo to Me, at a Stock Island marina.

The jury's recommendation is advisory and Jones has set a sentencing hearing for June 28 at the Freeman Justice Center.

Before the jury left for deliberations, Jones told them their decision would be "given great weight."

This week attorneys on both sides argued whether the defendant should spend the rest of his life in Florida prison or die from lethal injection.

Prosecutors opted to ground their closing arguments to the jury in terms of hard evidence speaking directly to the "heinous, atrocious and cruel" manner of the murder, whereas defense counsel spoke in more abstract terms of morality and how LeBaron's life went off course.

Kellie Peterson, defense counsel from the Regional Office of Civil and Conflict Counsel, described a pattern of various abuses that began when LeBaron, now 36, was just three years old.

Testimony from LeBaron's brother and sister described mother Melba as a devout Jehovah's Witness and strict disciplinarian who regularly abused the siblings.

"The problem is," Peterson said, "we all get so wrapped up in this process that everyone has to point a finger. Don't do that. Look at why this happened and what our system of justice stands for.

"I would say our system of justice failed those kids. Was that Jonathan's fault? Would he still be here today? Those are the kinds of questions you need to answer.

"I would ask to look at Jonathan LeBaron and the path that he was given and know that there's no gift here, there's no free pass. Either way he dies in prison and it becomes less about him and more about the morality of what happened and what failed. Then I would ask you not to kill him."

A crime that a jury decides is "heinous, atrocious and cruel," is considered an aggravating factor in the penalty phase where life or death is deliberated.

"There were a minimum of four, distinct blunt force wounds to Richard Gardner's head," Assistant Monroe County State Attorney Val Winter told jurors. "The blunt object struck Richard Gardner's head with such sheer strength and wickedness, Richard Gardner avulsed seven teeth."

The victim's "upper jaw was broken and his lower jaw shattered," Winter said, going on to describe a total of 12 stab wounds to Gardner's body, evidenced by a graphic photograph projected in the courtroom.

"Heinous," Winter said, displaying a new photo of plastic wire ties LeBaron planned to bind Gardner with during a robbery or kidnapping. "Atrocious."

Finally, a photo of Gardner's body so badly beaten it was difficult to ascertain the exact anatomy. "Cruel. Did Richard Gardner die because of Jonathan LeBaron's greed or because the defendant was hit with a switch as a child?"



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