A man found guilty of beating another man to death on a Keys boat should get the death penalty, a Monroe County jury recommended Friday by a vote of 11-1.
Last week, the same jury found Jonathan Leo LeBaron guilty of premeditated murder in the Feb. 10, 2009, beating death of 57-year-old Richard Gardner aboard Gardner’s boat, Flo to Me, at a Stock Island marina.
The jury’s recommendation is advisory. Circuit Court Judge Mark Jones has set a sentencing hearing for June 28 at the Freeman Justice Center. Before members of the jury left for deliberations, Jones told them their decision would be "given great weight."
This week attorneys on both sides argued whether the defendant should spend the rest of his life in Florida prison or die from lethal injection.
Prosecutors focused their closing arguments on the "heinous, atrocious and cruel" manner of the murder. The defense counsel described how LeBaron’s life went off course.
Kellie Peterson, defense counsel from the Regional Office of Civil and Conflict Counsel, described a pattern of various abuses that began when LeBaron, now 36, was 3.
Testimony from LeBaron’s brother and sister described their mother Melba as a devout Jehovah’s Witness and strict disciplinarian who regularly abused the siblings.
"I would say our system of justice failed those kids. Was that Jonathan’s fault? Would he still be here today? Those are the kinds of questions you need to answer.”
"I would ask to look at Jonathan LeBaron and the path that he was given and know that there’s no gift here, there’s no free pass. Either way he dies in prison and it becomes less about him and more about the morality of what happened and what failed. Then I would ask you not to kill him."
A crime that a jury decides is "heinous, atrocious and cruel" is considered an aggravating factor in the penalty phase where life or death is deliberated.
"There were a minimum of four distinct blunt force wounds to Richard Gardner’s head," Assistant Monroe County State Attorney Val Winter told jurors. "The blunt object struck Richard Gardner’s head with such sheer strength and wickedness, Richard Gardner avulsed seven teeth."
The victim’s "upper jaw was broken and his lower jaw shattered," Winter said, going on to describe a total of 12 stab wounds to Gardner’s body, evidenced by a graphic photograph projected in the courtroom.
"Heinous," Winter said, displaying a new photo of plastic wire ties LeBaron planned to bind Gardner with during a robbery or kidnapping. "Atrocious."
Finally, a photo of Gardner’s body so badly beaten it was difficult to ascertain the exact anatomy. "Cruel. Did Richard Gardner die because of Jonathan LeBaron’s greed or because the defendant was hit with a switch as a child?"