Sunday, December 20, 2009

Killer Justin Heyne gets death penalty

BY KEYONNA SUMMERS
FLORIDA TODAY

VIERA — Based on anticipated appeals, legal wrangling and barring any commutations from future governors, Brevard County prosecutors estimate a man sentenced Thursday to die by lethal injection for the 2006 deaths of a Titusville family won’t see his earliest date with death until at least 2025.

http://www.floridatoday.com/graphics/bits/orange_arrow.gif"> http://www.floridatoday.com/section/VideoNetwork?bctid=57882949001" TARGET="_new">VIDEO: Justin Heyne receives death sentence

Dave Buckoski, the father of one of Justin Heyne’s triple-murder victims, said he would prefer the triple-murderer meet a swifter justice. But Buckoski, who described the three-year ordeal since his daughter’s death as “the road to hell” said the sentence brought much-needed closure, nonetheless.

“What I wanted was for the state of Florida to tell him they were going to kill him. That’s what happened,” Buckoski said of the sentence he’d been hoping for since his daughter, Sarah Buckoski, was killed along with her boyfriend, Benjamin Hamilton, and 5-year-old daughter, Ivory, on March 30, 2006.

“I would love to be the one to push the plunger,” he said. "I hope God can have pity on his soul. I can't. I hope he can.”

During a sentencing hearing that lasted less than a minute, Heyne, 28, made no reaction as Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton informed him he would join eight other Brevard County inmates – and 390 across Florida – already sitting on death row.

Heyne’s lawyers argued during trial this summer he fatally shot 26-year-old Hamilton, his best friend, and 24-year-old Buckoski in self-defense, but accidentally killed Ivory when she ran into the midst of “an argument that just went horribly wrong.”

Prosecutors said Heyne, who was living with the family at the time of the killings, shot Hamilton during a dispute over a $300 debt.

Hamilton was unarmed and in bed when Heyne shot him in the head. He shot Buckoski as she cowered in a corner on the floor, and walked over to Ivory where he slapped her before also firing a bullet into her skull, prosecutors said.

The jury recommended life in prison for Hamilton’s murder, then voted 8-4 for the death penalty in Buckoski’s death and 10-2 in favor of execution for the child’s killing.

Eaton followed the jury’s recommendation in Hamilton and Ivory’s killings, but went against the panel’s recommendation in sentencing Heyne to life in prison without possibility of parole for Buckoski’s murder.

In his sentencing memorandum, Eaton explained that he had difficulty weighing prosecutor’s evidence about the circumstances surrounding Buckoski’s death and “significant” mitigating testimony about Heyne’s history of mental illness.

“Only one aggravating circumstance applies to the murder of Sarah Buckoski and that involves the murder of the other two victims, although it is unlikely that before her own death Sarah Buckoski knew that Ivory Hamilton had been killed,” Eaton wrote. “The court concludes that the mitigation does outweigh the aggravation and a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole is the appropriate sentence.”

In general, Eaton wrote, testimony presented during the trial’s penalty phase about the cruel, heinous nature of the crimes; Ivory’s age; Heyne’s previous convictions, history of substance abuse and suicide attempts; and Heyne’s impaired capacity to understand his conduct all received “great” or “moderate weight.” Testimony that Heyne was under extreme mental or emotional disturbance at the time of the killings; was caring toward to his handicapped son, the elderly and the homeless; and the impact on Heyne’s family received “little” or “no weight,” Eaton wrote.

He said through an 18th Judicial Circuit spokeswoman that the purpose of the sentencing hearing is to impose the sentence and the purpose of the order is to justify it for appeal, so he declined to read the order into the record because it’s unnecessary.

Assistant State Attorney Tom Brown said prosecutors were pleased with the sentence.

Heyne’s family declined to comment as they exited the courtroom.

“When you shoot and execute a 5-year-old, you deserve death more than anyone else. We’re just happy justice was served,” Brown said. “I was hoping for and expecting a death sentence on count three. From my standpoint, it doesn’t matter how many death sentences because you can only be put to death once.”

An appeal is automatically sent to the state Supreme Court, and Brown said Heyne has the option to file several post-conviction appeals.

“On average, they take 15 years. It could be less, it could be more,” Brown said.

As of now, charges are still pending against Heyne for his alleged role in a 2008 sexual battery on a fellow Brevard County Detention Center inmate; a June assault on his cellmate and an August attempt to smuggle a gun into the jail as part of an escape plot.

“There were victims in those other cases and they deserve to have their cases properly resolved,” state attorney’s office spokeswoman Lynne Bumpus-Hooper said.

Over the past three years, Hamilton’s mother, 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, and said the money spent on trial and incarceration would be better spent helping other crime victims.

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.

Perez said she did not attend Thursday’s sentencing because she received too short notice.

“How can you have closure when every day you miss them, every day something reminds you of them?” she asked Tuesday. “And to know they say ‘we’re going to take revenge for you and kill this man for you,’ it’s like asking to give someone the same pain you’re experiencing. I don’t want that on my shoulders. I want (Heyne) to be punished but I don’t think his family should have to pay for it.”

Dave Buckoski also said he doesn’t “see a reason for taxpayers to pay to keep him alive for 15 to 20 years. My kids are dead.”

But for now, he said he will focus on remembering his daughter, a great mother who was pursuing her dream of becoming a nurse; Hamilton, whom he loved like a son; and Ivory, an intelligent child who loved butterflies.

“Everytime I see a butterfly, it reminds me of her,” Buckoski said.

Contact Summers at 242-3642 or ksummers@floridatoday.com

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