NEW PORT RICHEY — A small homeless camp off U.S. 19, with a couple tents, a fire pit and a recliner for sleeping, was where Kimberly Goode went to drink beer with friends at the end of many days spent panhandling.
In her world, friends were loyal and accepting. But small arguments, usually fueled by intoxication, could erupt into violence. And one night last June, as Goode and three others poured down beer and wine beside a fire, one of those altercations turned fatal.
William Johnroe, authorities said, punched Goode in the face after she fought with another woman. Bleeding and dazed, Goode retreated into her tent. An hour or so later, she emerged with a bat-sized stick in her hands. When she took a swing at Johnroe, he grabbed it and turned it on her. With blow after blow, Goode, 46, crumpled to her knees, then to the ground. She died with her face smashed, her dentures broken and fractures in her ribs and hands.
A jury on Wednesday deliberated about an hour before convicting Johnroe, 34, of manslaughter with a weapon.
Circuit Judge Michael Andrews immediately sentenced him to 30 years in prison, the maximum, saying the crime was akin to premeditated murder.
"You took the stick and after you took the stick you beat this woman mercilessly," Andrews said. "You can't just keep hitting someone without expecting them to die."
Johnroe's attorney had argued that Johnroe was acting in self-defense, and that it was Goode who attacked him both times.
"There is an equality in the act and the response," Assistant Public Defender Gary Welch said.
But the two witnesses to the beating, Paul Pelchat and Cynthia Geller, testified that Johnroe seemed intent on hurting Goode, who made no sound and did not fight back.
"(Johnroe) would hit and pause, like he was getting some satisfaction out of it," Geller testified. "I'm not a psychologist, but that's how it felt to me."
Neither she nor Pelchat tried to intervene or call 911. They just went back to drinking.
Johnroe is a registered sex offender who spent 13 years in prison in Michigan for criminal sexual conduct.
He was charged with carrying a concealed weapon in 1994, and last July he was arrested in an attack on another homeless person. Sheriff's investigators said he severely beat Joseph "Guitar Joe" Fylipek in the parking lot of a Dollar General store across the street from the homeless camp where Goode's body lay. Authorities said Johnroe was angry with Fylipek for not watching Johnroe's backpack.
Johnroe was sitting in jail in that incident when Geller and Pelchat, who had since traveled to Clearwater, called police to report Goode's death. They told authorities that Johnroe had threatened them repeatedly to silence them. Johnroe told Pelchat he could also be implicated because he helped move Goode's body, Pelchat said. Geller said Johnroe threatened to make her his next victim.
The two led authorities to a site deeper in the woods, where Goode's body — by then just a skeleton — lay wrapped in her tent and covered in palm fronds. She had been dead more than a month.
Goode's mother, Marilyn Hurst, told Andrews during sentencing that Goode frequently called to check in and would turn up at her mother's house in Indiana about once a year for a visit.
"She was my firstborn, my only daughter," Hurst said.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.