A jury on Thursday convicted a Clearwater man of murdering a taxi driver in 2004.
Genghis Kocaker, 44, was convicted of first-degree murder in the killing of Eric J. Stanton, 26.
Stanton's body was found Sept. 1, 2004, in his cab, which was parked in the parking lot of the Eckerd Drug store at 1605 Missouri Ave. S. Authorities were alerted to the cab by an anonymous man who called 911 and said someone was dead inside a taxi at the store.
The killer had stabbed Stanton and cut his throat, then bound him with a seat belt, put him in the taxi's trunk and set the car on fire. Stanton was able to push his way into the cab of the taxi. He died from smoke inhalation, though an autopsy showed the stab wounds contributed to his death.
Detectives learned Kocaker, who has served prison time for manslaughter and armed robbery, lived with his sister two blocks away. They focused on him as a suspect based on a surveillance camera tape, a blood-soaked T-shirt and a gas can.
The surveillance video showed Kocaker making the anonymous 911 call from the store to report the death. When detectives interviewed him, he said Stanton gave him a ride that night but denied killing him.
Detectives also said they found a blood-soaked gray Fruit of the Loom T-shirt in the back seat of the cab. Kocaker's sister told them Kocaker owned such a shirt, and that it was missing from her house. Similarly, investigators said the gas can found on the front seat of the cab was missing from the sister's home.
Detectives also said Kocaker had a crack cocaine habit and, according to his dealer, ran out of money a couple of days before the slaying.
But shortly after midnight on Aug. 31, Kocaker called his dealer and asked to be picked up at the Walgreens across the street from the Eckerd where Stanton's body would be found the next day, authorities said.
The dealer told detectives he noticed Kocaker was carrying a lot of cash and had blood on his shirt. He asked Kocaker if he had robbed someone, and Kocaker said, "That's what I do."
A woman who had used drugs with Kocaker also reported seeing blood on his shirt that night. When she asked how he got blood on him, Kocaker told her she asked too many questions and changed clothes.
Jurors will return to court today to hear testimony about whether Kocaker should be sentenced to death. They will make a recommendation to Judge Joseph Bulone, who will decide whether he should be sentenced to death or to life in prison without the chance of parole.