Friday, August 7, 2009

Earlier story: Heyne case moves to death penalty phase

Convicted triple murderer could become Brevard's 10th death-row inmate


Justin Heyne could become Brevard County's 10th death-row inmate after a jury Tuesday convicted him of three counts of first-degree murder for the 2006 shooting deaths of his roommates and their 5-year-old daughter.

"It's what we waited for," a tearful Dave Buckoski said of the verdict he'd been hoping for since his daughter, Sarah Buckoski, was killed along with her boyfriend, Benjamin Hamilton, and daughter, Ivory.

"It's been three years and four months too long. Justice is slow, but it's right."

After the verdict was read, Hamilton's mother, Juanita Perez, sat in the courtroom for several minutes, overcome with tears and temporarily unable to speak. She and her daughter, Elizabeth Hamilton, said they were "satisfied" with the verdict.

"Coming here has brought all the emotions back, just like it happened all over again," said Elizabeth Hamilton.

Heyne, 28, stood still in his dark suit and blue tie as a court clerk three times pronounced him guilty of the March 30, 2006 killings.

Heyne's trial lasted a week, after a week of jury selection. The 12 jurors deliberated about six hours over two days before returning the guilty verdicts just before noon Tuesday.

The nine women and three men return today for the penalty phase of the trial, during which attorneys will present evidence and testimony as to whether Heyne should die by lethal injection or serve three mandatory sentences of life in prison without parole.

Attorneys expect to wrap up the death-penalty phase by Friday, then turn the case over to the judge, who will take the jury's recommendation into strong consideration before making a final decision.

The jury's verdict in the death-penalty phase does not have to be unanimous.

Heyne's lawyers had argued during trial that he had to defend himself when Hamilton pulled a gun as Heyne turned to leave the bedroom during a dispute over $300 Heyne owed. Ivory was accidentally killed when she ran in front of the gun, attorneys said.

But prosecutors said Hamilton was unarmed and in bed when Heyne shot him in the head.

The main sticking point for jurors, based on their questions to the judge during deliberations, appeared to center on Heyne's account of the killings.

Jurors replayed Heyne's three-hour videotaped interview with police in which he denied the killings, but eventually confessed when presented with a box that he'd stashed at his girlfriend's house containing bloody clothes and the murder weapon.

Heyne did not testify.

For months, Juanita Perez lobbied the State Attorney's Office to accept Heyne's offer to plead guilty to all three murders in exchange for three life sentences. She didn't want her family to suffer through years of appeals.

But prosecutors -- citing wishes of other relatives, Heyne's prior felony record and the heinous nature of the murders, especially against Ivory -- said death is an appropriate punishment.

Either way, Perez plans to be there for the sentencing.

"We're following through with our promise to Ben to see this to the end, to see that whoever did this be punished," she said. "But I know for myself the loss of a son is very devastating and I don't wish that upon anyone. (Heyne) has good parents and it's been a struggle for them. My struggle is over. Theirs is just beginning."

Contact Summers at 242-3642 or

Additional Facts
What's next
Jurors reconvene at 9 a.m. today at the Moore Justice Center in Viera to begin hearing the death penalty phase of the Justin Heyne triple-murder case.

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