Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jury recommends death for Jacksonville laundry owner’s killer

Circuit judge to decide fate after June 11 hearing


Jurors recommended Tuesday that a Jacksonville man be executed for murdering a former Albanian police officer in his Southside laundry during a botched robbery attempt two years ago.

The jury voted 9-3 in favor of the death penalty for Kevin Jerome Scott after about three hours of testimony Tuesday morning. The same panel convicted Scott last week of first-degree murder in the July 2007 shooting of Kristo Binjaku, 45.

Scott’s fate now rests with Circuit Judge Charles Arnold. He can accept the jury’s recommendation or sentence him to life in prison. Florida judges normally follow jurors’ advice.

Arnold scheduled a June 11 hearing to take further evidence before making his decision.

Binjaku’s wife of 20 years bowed her head when the jury’s recommendation was announced. She deferred comment to prosecutors.

“It boils down to good versus evil,” Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda said afterward. “It speaks volumes about the problem we have in this community in that a hard-working, innocent victim was killed for no other reason than somebody wanted his money.”

Scott’s family and friends, many of whom testified on his behalf Tuesday, stared blankly when the verdict was read. They left the courtroom without comment.

Scott shot Binjaku in the face while trying to rob his coin laundry at Toledo Road and Powers Avenue. Scott’s public defenders tried to blame the murder on the getaway driver, Desi Eugene Bolling, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and testified against Scott in hope of a lighter sentence from Arnold.

Earlier Tuesday, Scott asked jurors for mercy. He wouldn’t discuss the murder, answering each question from de la Rionda with the same response: “I sympathize and feel sorry for the victim’s family.”

“If I say no or yes, it doesn’t matter because I’ve already been convicted,” he explained.

He only came close to addressing the facts of his case when he criticized the prosecutor for not hiring a voice analyst to determine whether it was indeed Scott on a secret jailhouse recording of him discussing the shooting and mocking the victim. The recording, made for police by Bolling, was a crucial piece of evidence against Scott.

Assistant Public Defender Fred Gazaleh presented evidence about Scott’s lack of a violent felony record, and Scott’s family and friends testified that armed robbery and murder were out of character for him.

“He’s made a lot of mistakes in his life like a lot of teenage boys, but a murderer he is not,” said his grandmother, Eddie Bell Phelps.

But prosecutors pointed to Scott’s record of thievery and drugs. And de la Rionda argued that Scott deserved to die because the murder was committed during a robbery attempt and because Scott beat another man in the laundry with his gun.

Jurors also heard from Binjaku’s daughter, a student at the University of Florida, who described the emptiness and emotional and financial upheaval his murder has caused her family. She said her mother only wears black and probably will the rest of her life.

“My father had a selfless dream. He wanted his wife and children to live a happy and successful life,” Malvina Binjaku testified. “So he moved to America where that dream could be achieved. He worked hard and built a strong foundation … but we do not get the chance to see it fulfilled because he is not here for us.”

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