LARGO — A jury on Thursday decided John E. Windh was partly to blame for the 2007 slaying of a homeless man in Tarpon Springs.
The jury of four men and two women took about two hours to convict Windh of manslaughter, a lesser charge than the second-degree murder charge he faced.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge R. Timothy Peters sentenced Windh to 15 years in prison.
Prosecutors said Windh, 56, helped pummel and bludgeon to death 47-year-old Michael J. Picciola at a homeless encampment on the undeveloped Walmart property on U.S. 19 near the Anclote River, then conspired to bury his body and cover up the crime.
Authorities said Picciola was killed by Windh and Del Ray Adams, now 50, on March 24, 2007. Adams pleaded guilty to manslaughter in 2009 and was sentenced to nine years in prison.
According to prosecutors, a group of men went to Picciola's tent to confront him because he had beaten Adams earlier in the day.
"They wanted to tell him to leave because they had all these problems with him," said Windh, who took the stand in his defense Thursday.
Wearing a tan suit and wire-rimmed eyeglasses, Windh said he had never met Picciola or Adams before that day.
He said he went with Adams and the others, who were friends of his, because he wanted to help keep the peace and avoid a violent confrontation.
Within moments of arriving at Picciola's camp, Windh said, he was hit in the head and knocked unconscious.
"I woke up on the ground," he said.
Windh said one of the men pointed out Picciola, who was lying on the ground, as the man who hit him, so he went over, in the dark, to see who he was.
He said he hit Picciola twice in the face.
"I was scared for my life, sir. I was afraid of him grabbing hold of me," he told prosecutor Nathan Vonderheide.
But Vonderheide said blood evidence and testimony from witnesses showed Windh was a willing participant in the beating.
"More than one person can kill somebody and that's exactly what happened in this case," he said.
Windh admitted he gave $20 to Adams after the murder so Adams could buy lime to cover the smell of decomposition. He denied telling Adams to dig a hole.
Police found Picciola's body, covered with an American flag, the next day after Adams' girlfriend called police to report the crime.
"Mr. Windh and the others went to Mr. Picciola's home and took the only thing he had of value — his life," said Assistant State Attorney Carolyne Moomaw.