BY JOHN A. TORRES
VIERA — Calling the murder of 5-year-old Ivory Hamilton the definition of “extremely wicked and shocking,” Assistant State Attorney Tom Brown asked the jury to return a death penalty recommendation Wednesday morning for convicted killer Justin Heyne.
Heyne was found guilty Tuesday of three counts of first-degree murder for the 2006 shooting deaths of his roommates and their daughter.
Heyne shot and killed Sarah Buckoski, her boyfriend, Benjamin Hamilton, and daughter, Ivory.
“The homicide of a child takes it out of the norm,” a passionate Brown said during opening statements of the penalty phase. “To walk over to her and slap her and then point the gun to the side of her head and pull the trigger is heinous, atrocious and cruel. That child had just seen her parents murdered by someone she knew and trusted.”
Assistant Public Defender Randall Moore told the jury that he will present mitigating factors that should prevent them from imposing a death sentence.
“There is no way to excuse Mr. Heyne for what he did,,” Moore said. “But no matter what your vote is, he will take his last breath in prison. He will die in prison.”
Moore said he would present evidence detailing Heyne’s “troubled past” involving self-destructive behavior, drug abuse and brain damage.
Heyne would become Brevard County's 10th death-row inmate if sentenced to death.
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.
Hamilton’s mother, Juanita Perez lobbied the State Attorney's Office for months to accept Heyne's offer to plead guilty to all three murders in exchange for three life sentences.
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.
Contact Torres at jtorres@floridatoday .com, or 321-242-3649. Staff writer Keyonna Summers contributed to this report.
The nine-woman, three-man jury does not have to be unanimous in their recommendation on whether to impose a death sentence on Heyne.
The final decision rests with Judge O.H. Eaton, although he is bound to give their recommendation “great weight.”