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Mixed verdict in Hernando 'walker' case

TAVARES — Four hours after the jury began deliberating Tuesday, they wanted dinner.

It spoke volumes about the case against Jamie Lynn Tyson for his role in the horrific attack on John Kelly, the man known by many in Hernando County as "the walker."

The prosecution is relying largely on circumspect witnesses to prove a case devoid of physical evidence, and the defense put Tyson on the stand Tuesday to deny any involvement in the Sept. 19, 2007 assault.

Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing gave the jury of five women and one man final instructions just before 3:15 p.m. Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee walked from the courtroom putting his chances at a conviction at 50-50.

Kelly's brother George felt the same way. "We just want this thing to be over with more than anything," he said.

An hour later at 8:50 p.m., the jury returned a mixed verdict: Not guilty of attempted felony murder, but guilty of armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and tampering with evidence.

Tyson still faces a potential sentence of life in prison.

The prosecution dropped charges against co-defendant Michael Vann after Tyson refused to testify in the trial of Vann, which would have started Wednesday. The only evidence the prosecution had against Vann was the testimony of Anthony Hawkins, an alleged co-conspirator.

Authorities believe Tyson and two friends plotted for weeks to rob the 50-year-old mentally challenged man. Wearing black ski masks, they threw him in the roadside ditch, beat him with steel rods until he lost consciousness, and robbed him of $100.

Kelly managed to stumble to a nearby fire station for help but new testimony in Tyson's trial suggested he possibly lay unconscious in the ditch for hours before he summoned the strength to walk.

He didn't testify, but his brother briefly took the stand to describe the attack's affects.

"He has short term memory loss," George Kelly said. "He has very little recognition. It changes from time to time. … He escapes from time to time (when) he gets off the reservation."

The case against Tyson rested largely on the words of Anthony Hawkins, who took a lenient sentence in exchange for his testimony. Hawkins allegedly acted as a lookout during the attack.

"I told them to stop," he told jurors. "I didn't think it would go that far."

The 18-year-old appeared flustered as he recounted the events and admitted a number of inconsistencies in his story. In a tough cross-examination, defense attorney Frank Bankowitz advanced a theory that Hawkins was the mastermind and he asserted Tyson was a scapegoat.

Barbee backed Hawkins' testimony with a neighbor who overheard Tyson take credit for the robbery at a party and a jailhouse snitch, who said Tyson shared new details about the incident.

But the accusations didn't fluster Tyson, who took the witness stand calm and confidently. He denied any involvement and refuted the other witnesses.

"Would you have any reason to harm Mr. Kelly?" Bankowitz asked.

"No, sir," Tyson responded. "What they say we took from that man was slight. I could ask my mom for that and gotten that from my mom."

He continued later, "Mr. Tyson, did you rob Mr. Kelly that night?"

"No, sir."

"Did you beat him with sticks or rebar or anything else?"

"No, sir."

Barbee questioned him relentlessly about his inconsistent alibi — detailed by his mother in previous testimony that he was at home eating a spaghetti dinner with his family — and elicited an admission the jury apparently took seriously.

"You told Det. (Philip) Lankin the night you were arrested that you were at your uncle's house, correct?" Barbee asked.

"Yes, sir," Tyson responded.

"That alibi didn't work out for you did it?

"No, sir."

"So that spaghetti and meatballs argument came up only after that first alibi fell apart."

"Yeah."

Mixed verdict in Hernando 'walker' case 04/07/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 9:37pm]

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