LARGO — After spending six full days in court, jurors needed only an hour and 20 minutes to find Patrick A. Evans guilty of first-degree murder for shooting his estranged wife and her friend.
The former Jabil Circuit vice president, who once lived in a waterfront Pass-a-Grille home and travelled for corporate business to China, Hong Kong and Singapore, stood stoically in a gray suit and showed no emotion Wednesday as the verdicts were read.
The family members of victims Elizabeth K. Evans and Jerry B. Taylor were warned against any outbursts in the courtroom, and so they reacted quietly, with tears and gentle hugs.
It was an especially fast verdict in such a serious case, but this also was a trial with a highly unusual piece of evidence —- an accidentally made 911 recording of the murder itself.
On Thursday morning a penalty phase of the trial will begin, in which prosecutors will argue that Evans should receive the death penalty for the double-murder. His defense attorneys plan to call witnesses today, including family members, and argue that Evans should not be executed.
The same jury that convicted Evans will recommend whether he should get the death penalty, and that recommendation will be forwarded to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Richard Luce, who presided at trial. Luce must give great weight to the jury's recommendation, but then he will make his own decision on whether to impose the death penalty.
If Luce does not impose the death penalty, Evans' sentence will be life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Several family members of victims Elizabeth Evans and Taylor said they were grateful for the verdict, and also willing to accept whatever decision is made regarding Evans' sentence.
''The family is very happy with the verdict. We believe the jury saw the evidence for what it was,'' said J.P. Taylor, Jerry Taylor's brother. "It's definitely not closure for us but it's one more step in the healing process."
He said it was emotional for family members to hear the verdict, because the wait has been so long.
Molly Rhoades, 20, Elizabeth Evans' daughter, said, "I'm just happy that justice has been served. We've waited a long time for this."
Elizabeth Evans' father, Julian Weingarten, said the verdict shows "the system works. This guy went out and killed two people and he's going to pay the price."
According to testimony in the case, Evans had filed for divorce against Elizabeth Evans, and then changed his mind, but then she filed for divorce against him. Assistant State Attorney William Loughery had said Evans was a "control freak" who was snooping around for information on his wife, and discovered that she had planned a date with Taylor. "He couldn't live without her," Loughery said, "and as a result, she didn't live any longer."
Prosecutors said Evans went into his wife's Gulfport condo and confronted her and Taylor in the bedroom right as a romantic encounter was about to begin. He used his .40-caliber Glock handgun to shoot each of them once in the neck.
On the 911 recording, Elizabeth Evans calls out "Rick" — a name Evans goes by — as he tells the two to sit on the bed. Jerry Taylor tells Evans to put the gun down, but soon after, the gun fires. Elizabeth Evans can be heard yelling "help!" but the gun fires again.
The recording was not the only serious evidence against Evans. He left shell casings at the scene, and they ballistically matched other shells fired from a gun Evans owned.
Defense attorney David Parry tried to convince jurors there was reasonable doubt in the case. He said Elizabeth Evans was somewhat intoxicated, and might have called out "Rick?" at a masked intruder. He reminded jurors if there was any reasonable doubt the voice on the recording was Evans, they had to acquit him. As to the shell casings matching Evans' gun, he said several people, including Evans' ex-wife, knew the combination to his gun safe and garage door, so the gun could have been removed.
The trial featured a surreal moment when Evans took the witness stand and repeated the words "sit on the bed" from the 911 recording -- essentially re-enacting a portion of the murder he is now convicted of. He and his attorney argued the voice on the recording was not his.
At one point on the witness stand, Evans seemed to say "sit on the bed" with the hint of an accent, which prompted some in the courtroom to laugh. Loughery later called it akin to a Jamaican accent.
— Curtis Krueger can be reached at (727) 893-8232 or firstname.lastname@example.org.