David Angier/Florida Freedom Newspapers
Thursday January 31st, 2008
Twelve jurors took 38 minutes to convict Washington Correctional Institution inmate Johnny Reed of first-degree murder for killing another convict in a racially motivated attack.
Reed and the jurors will return to court today for a short penalty phase proceeding that will end with the jury recommending either life in prison or death for Reed.
Reed, 34, accepted the verdict without expression and laughed with his attorneys after the jury had been excused for the day.
Jurors convicted him of smothering Donald R. Williams, 46, in November 2006 while the two shared a cell at the Washington County prison.
Reed’s lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Walter Smith, told jurors in his closing that the prison shared some of the blame. He said Reed, a white man, had made no secret of his allegiance to the “Aryan Brotherhood” or his view that prisoners should be segregated by race.
Williams was black.
Smith said the two never should have been put in a cell together.
Reed did not deny killing Williams. He gave investigators a detailed confession and participated in a videotaped re-enactment of the murder.
Smith simply asked jurors to convict Reed of something other than first-degree murder so they would not have to return to court for the penalty phase.
Prosecutor Larry Basford indicated he would be seeking the death penalty on at least four legal aggravators: the murder was heinous, atrocious or cruel; it was cold, calculated and premeditated; the defendant has a prior violent felony conviction; and he was in custody at the time of the crime.
Legal aggravators have to be proven to jurors, but they assign the weight each aggravator carries in determining a recommendation. It would be almost unheard of for Circuit Judge Allen Register to sentence Reed to anything other than what the jury recommends.
Basford said he will call one witness today in the penalty phase. Smith said he had two witnesses and said the hearing might be concluded by 10:30 a.m.
Register, who has worked in Washington County for 25 years as a prosecutor and judge, said there have been several local first-degree murder cases that have gone to a penalty phase hearing in that time, but no one had been sentenced to death.