Saturday, February 21, 2009

Updated: Judge hands down life sentence for Hernandez Daniels

By Nic Corbett

updated 5:22 p.m.

Rosemary Butler has no hate in her heart for the two men implicated in the death of her daughter, confidential informant Constance Dupont, she said Friday in Gadsden Circuit Court, but she still wonders why law enforcement didn’t do more to protect her.

“My daughter was used to capture a drug dealer and left on her own,” said Butler, who lives in Orlando. “Those who used her as an informant are just as guilty, being that they knew what she was facing.”

One of the accused, Hernandez Daniels, 36, was sentenced to life in prison without parole Friday. He was found guilty of first-degree murder earlier in the week for ordering a hit on the 39-year-old Dupont, who was working for the Leon County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to bust Daniels. The suspected hit man, Fernando “Wolf” Taylor, is expected to be tried on the same charge later.

The state sought the death penalty for Daniels, but a 12-person jury recommended life after deliberating for more than one hour. Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker said she couldn’t think of any legal reason to overrule their recommendation.

Daniels is already serving a life sentence on federal drug charges, but that doesn’t mean the trial was a waste of time or money, said prosecutor Richard Combs.

“We have a case in which an individual was killed, murdered, and it shouldn’t be forgotten,” he said after the trial. “Just because it says life without parole today doesn’t mean it’ll say life without parole next year. People get out of prison for all sorts of reasons. The laws can change.”

Before the jury deliberated, defense attorney Adam Ruiz made the gravity of their situation clear: “The task you have before you is immense. You have a great power right now. You have the ability to do something very few people have.”

The jurors were told to weigh the legal reasons why he should live or die. The prosecutor argued that the murder was cold and calculating. He said Daniels had a history of using violence as a solution, citing two incidents when Daniels was 17 and 18. He called Daniels a “ring leader” and “puppet master” who orchestrated the killing of Dupont, starting from the night before, when he confirmed the rumor she was a “snitch.” Daniels had called one of the cell-phones Dupont used to set up a drug buy, and a detective answered the phone.

But Daniels’ lawyer told the jurors that Daniels was a good father to his stepdaughter, that he gave his family financial and moral support. He was the only one of five siblings to graduate from high school, and he kept a steady full-time job at a pharmaceutical company for six years before he was arrested. His discipline-free record in prison was also noted.

updated 12:40 p.m.

Leon Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker has handed down a life sentence for Hernandez Daniels, who was convicted this week of killing confidential informant Constance Dupont.

Dekker followed the recommendation of the jury, which deliberated on the sentence for about an hour.

Check back with for more on this story.

udpated 11:28

A jury in Gadsden County is now deliberating the fate of Hernandez Daniels, convicted of killing confidential informant Constance Dupont.

Speaking before the jury tasked with recommending life or death for Daniels, defense attorney Adam Ruiz made the gravity of the situation clear: “The task you have before you is immense. You have a great power right now. You have the ability to do something very few people have.”

Daniels was convicted of first degree murder. The prosecution and defense presented their closing arguments this morning in the sentencing phase of his trial.

The jurors will make a recommendation to Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker, who will make the final decision.

Return to for more on this story.

Earlier story by Angeline J. Taylor

QUINCY — Two daughters, seemingly on opposite sides of a murder conviction, offered tearful testimonies on behalf of their parents in the Gadsden County judicial center Thursday. The women were asked to testify during Hernandez Daniels' sentencing hearing, where prosecution attorneys asked for the death penalty while Daniels' attorney asked for life in prison.

Daniels, 36, was found guilty Tuesday of first-degree murder for ordering a hit on Constance Dupont, a confidential informant. Dupont was working with local and state law enforcement to bust Daniels in a drug case. It was Dupont's daughter, Lasharka Jones, 27, who read a moving multiple-page letter about life after her mother's murder.

"When she died, it was like half my heart went missing," Jones read. "I'm doing better, but I still have bad days."

Jones said she has suffered from nightmares, ulcers and depression. Her words drew tears from one of the jurors. But what jurors didn't hear was that Jones doesn't want Daniels to be sentenced to death.

Tiffany Davis, spoke on behalf of the man she knows as her father. She said Daniels wasn't her biological father. But he raised her from the time she was 6 months old.

"Any man can make a baby. It takes a real (man) to take care of it," Davis said. "He's the only man I know (as my father)."

Her testimony drew tears from Daniels. He wiped his eyes with a tissue.

Both women shared heartfelt memories of their time with their parent. Jones remembered when her mother stayed with her during the birth of her son.

"She was always there for me and my son." Jones said. "I used to be able to tell her anything and she wouldn't judge me."

About her father, Davis, who is now an adult, said, "Every Sunday was family day. We went to the movies. We would go out to eat."

She then stepped down from the witness stand and sobbed into the shoulder of a family member.

Jones, however, didn't want the day to go by without offering her opinions on Daniels' sentence. She wanted to say on the witness stand whether Daniels deserved life in prison or the death penalty. She said she's prayed about the issue. She spoke with her minister. And she made her decision.

"My momma taught me a lot," she said. "You don't do evil for evil."

Jones said she wanted to let jurors know that. She said prosecutors said her new statement would have to get the approval of Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker. So, she kept it out of her testimony.

When asked later if he knew that Dupont's family did not want Daniels to get the death penalty, Assistant State Attorney Richard Combs said, "I'm not finished with the case. It's not appropriate to be making any comments."

Jurors also heard from Francisco Chambers, a Gretna man that Combs said Daniels assaulted by a pistol-whipping in 1990.

"I'm just ready to tell the truth," said Chambers. "I'm not going to condemn that man. I forgave him for that."

Chambers needed nearly 200 stitches in his head after Daniels, then 17, struck him several times with a handgun.

One of Daniels' attorneys, Adam Ruiz, questioned Chambers' testimony because Ruiz said Chambers was not solid on his feet and that a doctor had deemed him incompetent. Chambers admitted he drinks every day. He admitted to having a drink at 8 a.m. Thursday. But he said he was competent and the judge agreed.

The hearing will continue at 9 a.m. today with closing arguments. After that, jurors will begin deciding Daniels' fate.

Dekker will make the final decision.

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