A six-person jury found Timothy Eugene Thomas III guilty Wednesday of first-degree attempted murder of a law enforcement officer in the October 2015 shooting of a Monroe County Sheriff's Office deputy.
The charge carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Deputy Joshua Gordon, who now serves with the St. John's County Sheriff's Office, survived a direct shot to the chest from a 9 mm bullet fired from Thomas' gun because his body armor stopped the round. The bullet was embedded in the vest's chest plate and would have gone into his heart absent the life-saving protection.
Jurors also found Thomas, 27, guilty of armed burglary, fleeing and eluding police and petty theft. His sentencing is scheduled for May 24. Jurors deliberated for about three hours.
"I'm extremely happy that Deputy Gordon now has the justice he has been waiting for for almost three years," said Assistant State Attorney Colleen Dunne, who prosecuted the case alongside Gail Conolly.
Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward said the case demonstrates that in the Keys, where violent crime is not as common as in other areas of the state and nation, police officers still face the threat of death every time they go to work.
"We're just not going to tolerate that in Monroe County," Ward said. "I'm going to work with the sheriff and the chief of police in Key West to ensure the safety of our law enforcement officers."
Gordon released the following statement:
"A couple years ago a man with evil and cowardly intentions attempted to murder me for performing the duties as a sworn Law Enforcement Officer. Thankfully I was able to survive this incident due to being provided the proper equipment, training, and mindset. I was not only able to continue my career as a Law Enforcement Officer, but most importantly continue as a husband and father."
Dozens of shots were exchanged during the Oct. 24, 2015, gun battle on the streets of Stock Island.
Gordon had been trailing a Ford Mustang driven by Thomas, 27, since it left the city limits of Key West. Sheriff's deputies and the Key West Police Department had been looking for Thomas for days because he was a suspect in an armed robbery that happened days earlier on Flagler Avenue near Key West High School. He was also wanted for a probation and marijuana possession charge in Orange County in Central Florida.
Dispatchers told Gordon the plate on the Mustang was stolen. Coincidentally, Gordon was the officer who took down the numbers for the stolen tag the night before. Gordon said in testimony this week that he continued to follow Thomas instead of immediately pulling him over because he wanted to wait for backup.
Thomas would not give him that choice. He turned off his headlights and sped down Second Avenue, presumably trying to lose Gordon.
Gordon switched on his overhead emergency lights, which automatically activate dashboard cameras in Sheriff's Office vehicles. Footage from his in-car camera shown in court during the trial showed Thomas' car driving 75 mph in a 25 mph zone.
When Gordon's car caught up with him, the Mustang was stuck between a stop sign and a chain-link fence on Sunshine Street and Third Avenue. He had lost control of his vehicle.
Footage shows Thomas getting out of the car with his left hand raised, while Gordon has his handgun trained on him. He screamed at Thomas to show his hands. Thomas then ducks back into his car, emerging with a pistol. A succession of shots are fired.
Prosecutors say the video clearly shows Thomas fire first. His attorney, assistant public defender Kevin McCarthy, said his client was fired on first and shot back in self defense.
Gordon was knocked to the ground by Thomas' gunfire. His partner, Sgt. David Lariz, arrived at the scene the moment the shootout started. Dashboard camera footage from his car shows Gordon lying in the street, then sitting up and firing back.
Lariz exited his car, firing all 14 rounds from his Glock 21 .45-caliber pistol. Gordon emptied all 16 bullets from his Glock 22 .40-caliber handgun while firing at the Mustang, as Thomas rocked it back and forth trying to escape.
When Thomas freed his car, he drove off, but continued to fire. Gordon ran to his trunk and retrieved his AR-15 rifle, and fired three rounds down the street at the fleeing car. Thomas was hit twice — once in the shoulder, and once in the back. When he surrendered the next day in Key West, he told medics treating him in an ambulance about the firefight.
"I don't know what he hit me with," Thomas said during dialog taped by a Key West Police Department officer's body camera. "I hit him with some shi**."
"I got a 30 clip in my bag, but I can't get to it," Thomas said, referring to a 30-round magazine for his Glock 9 mm that was in his backpack. During the shootout, his gun was loaded with a 15-round magazine.
Thomas escaped that night, but surrendered the next day in Key West after a brief standoff. His cousin, David Gray, Sr., 50, called an officer he knew in the Key West Police Department, David Kouri, saying he could get Thomas to turn himself in.
"He's like my son," Gray said on the stand Monday.
Thomas ended up calling Gray the next day on Oct. 25; Gray said he tried talking him into surrendering to Key West Police. Thomas asked Gray and his son, David Gray, Jr., 30, to meet him at a house on Von Phister Street. He asked him to bring a screwdriver.
Key West detective Darnell Sealey and Kouri told Gray not to go to the house without police, but he and his son drove their scooters there anyway. Once police realized the location of the house where Thomas was holed up, which he broke into, they surrounded it, with Gray coming outside to act as a mediator.
Sealey spoke with Thomas on the phone and convinced him he needed medical attention for his gunshot wounds, which he bandaged with duct tape.
Video from Kouri's body camera played in court Tuesday shows a back-and-forth conversation between the officer and Thomas, with Kouri urging him to come outside of the house, which he eventually did.
"I'm not going to shoot you Timmy," Kouri told Thomas at one point.
Footage from another officer's body camera shows Thomas describing the gunfight. His comments, unsolicited from officers, are a mixture of braggadocio and excuses that he fired at Gordon in self defense.
"I keep my sh**," Thomas said, explaining that he's always armed.
Kouri escorted Thomas inside Lower Keys Medical Center, where he said he kept talking about the gunfight. ."
Kouri testified that Thomas told him the only reason he surrendered was to receive medical treatment for his wounds. Asked by Dunne, the prosecutor, if Thomas' demeanor reflected relief that the ordeal was over, Kouri responded: "It was more cocky or arrogant to me."
Thomas wasn't the only person in the Von Phister house arrested that day.
Before leaving the house, David Gray Sr. gave his son a backpack. The younger Gray climbed the fence in the backyard. On the other side were awaiting deputies, Key West police officers and an FBI agent.
Inside the backpack was a 9 mm Glock magazine, almost 72 grams of marijuana, nine bags containing a total of 5.4 grams of powdered cocaine, 1.9 grams of crack cocaine and about 13 grams of amphetamines. David Gray Jr. was charged with multiple felony drug counts, which were exacerbated because he was caught within 1,000 feet of the Key West Church of Christ, according to court documents.
Prosecutors dropped the charges in March of this year.