Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Trial begins in beating of Hernando County's 'walker'

John Kelly, center, is widely known as simply “the walker.” In January 2008, he left HealthSouth Rehabilitation  
Hospital, where he was cared for by, from left, Rose Nutt, Robert Guzman and Heather Cline.

Keri Wiginton | Times (2008)

John Kelly, center, is widely known as simply “the walker.” In January 2008, he left HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, where he was cared for by, from left, Rose Nutt, Robert Guzman and Heather Cline.

TAVARES — "This case is about a guy named John Kelly. … He was a fixture in Hernando County."

With those words, Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee opened the trial Monday against Jamie Lynn Tyson, one of two young men standing trial this week in a brutal attack on the man known as "the walker."

In often dramatic language, the prosecutor described how Tyson and two friends allegedly targeted Kelly as he walked along State Road 50 near the intersection with Deltona Boulevard on the night of Sept. 19, 2007, beating him in the head with steel rebar and fleeing with Kelly's black backpack and $100.

"They beat him. They beat him badly," Barbee told jurors. But "John Kelly, left for dead, gets up out of that roadside grave of his and musters the energy to walk, like he always did."

Kelly and his harrowing story is familiar in Hernando, where the 50-year-old mentally challenged man walked the roadways for nearly a decade, earning his nickname and endearing him to many.

But here in Lake County, two counties and 60 miles east, not one person recognized his name.

This is why Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing transferred the trial here. In January, Rushing abruptly aborted the initial trial in Brooksville, deciding it was too difficult to find an unbiased jury because at least half the potential jurors felt strongly about the case.

Attorneys found selecting a jury much easier this time, but they still spent the bulk of the day working through the process.

Kelly didn't enter the courtroom — and won't testify because his memory of the attack is too murky.

He did sit in the hallway with his brother George, looking thin, if not frail. He sat silent, wearing a baseball hat, a trimmed gray beard and Velcro walking shoes.

Jurors saw only his photographic image, four pictures taken soon after the attack that show him bloodied and beaten.

Sean Moulton, a Hernando County paramedic, saw him first the night of the attack. He described the "copious amount of blood" covering Kelly's entire torso.

"He just kept repeating, 'Help me. Help me,' " Moulton told jurors.

The trial continues today and Tyson, 18, is expected to testify in his defense.

"He doesn't have to take the stand," defense attorney Frank Bankowitz said in his opening statement. "He doesn't have to prove anything. But he wants to tell you that he did not do this."

The 18-year-old from Weeki Wachee faces a life sentence if convicted on charges of attempted felony murder, armed robbery, conspiracy to commit armed robbery and tampering with evidence.

The prosecutor's case resumes this morning with the testimony of Anthony Hawkins, 18, a friend of Tyson's who allegedly acted as the lookout during the attack.

Hawkins took a plea deal that allowed him to receive a juvenile sentence in exchange for his testimony.

"Does that make him a snitch?" Barbee asked. "Does that mean he did the right thing? Only you can make that decision."

The prosecutor acknowledged that his case lacked physical evidence, making Hawkins' testimony important. "I don't know if I've ever said this before in front of a jury, but if you don't believe Anthony Hawkins, you can't convict Jamie Tyson," he said.

Bankowitz, Tyson's court-appointed attorney from Orlando, will try to prove Hawkins' testimony isn't believable. He told jurors that Hawkins initially told a different story to law enforcement that denied any knowledge of the attack.

"You've got to weigh the credibility of the witnesses," Bankowitz implored to the jury. Hawkins "got favoritism for his testimony, so he would testify the way the state wants."

Tyson's mother will give jurors an alibi for her son. She will testify that he was home the night of the attack, eating spaghetti and meatballs.

Barbee mocked this defense in his opening statement. He noted the alibi conflicts with other statements given to authorities and the timing is suspect. Becky Tyson came forward with the story only days before the first trial was scheduled to start.

A third defendant, Michael Vann, 24, is expected to stand trial after Tyson's case concludes.

John Frank can be reached at or (352) 754-6114.

Trial begins in beating of Hernando County's 'walker' 04/06/09 [Last modified: Monday, April 6, 2009 9:12pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  2. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday,.
  3. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  4. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]
  5. Man injured when small helicopter crashes into Odessa home


    ODESSA — A small manned helicopter crashed into the roof of a house in northwest Hillsborough County on Monday, injuring a pilot, officials said.

    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]