The brutal attack sparked outrage in the community. John Kelly — the 50-year-old man known by many as "the walker" — was robbed, beaten and left for dead in a ditch along Cortez Boulevard near U.S. 19. It occurred Sept. 19, 2007, and now, nearly a year and a half later, two of his alleged assailants will stand trial separately this week. But when the cases begin Monday, convictions are less than certain.
Jamie Lynn Tyson, 18, and Michael Vann, 24, both of whom lived near Weeki Wachee, are charged with attempted murder, robbery with a deadly weapon and tampering with evidence. Tyson faces an additional charge of conspiracy to commit the robbery.
A third accomplice, Anthony Hawkins, 18, also of the Weeki Wachee area, took a plea deal in which prosecutors dropped the principal to attempted murder charge in exchange for his testimony. He pleaded guilty to three lesser charges and was sentenced as a juvenile.
Tyson's trial will start first and is expected to take two days. He faces life in prison. The case against Vann, who has a lengthy criminal record, is scheduled to start Wednesday. If convicted, he would receive a mandatory life sentence as a repeat offender.
The jury is expected to hear directly from Kelly, a mentally challenged man who earned his nickname from his daily walks along county roads from his meager mobile home near Weeki Wachee.
But his memory of the incident is not complete. Investigators and Hawkins will give the sequence of events that night. This is what they will say:
Kelly took his normal walk to the Bank of America and withdrew $100 cash just before 11 p.m.
The three friends saw him do this often. They approached him riding bicycles and wearing black ski masks.
Vann asked him if he had money. Kelly said no. Vann then grabbed him and threw him into the ditch. They began to beat him in the head and face with metal rods.
They grabbed his backpack, which held Kelly's wallet, and fled to Tyson's residence on Lake Drive.
Based largely on Hawkins' statements, Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee thinks the main perpetrator was Vann. "He's the most experienced criminal," he said.
But the case against him is the weaker of the two. Only Hawkins puts Vann at the scene.
Barbee hopes a conviction against Tyson will lead to his testimony against Vann.
The chief problem with both cases is the lack of physical evidence. Court documents suggest Tyson and Vann put the weapons, masks, backpack and bloody clothes in a trash bag that was picked up the next morning during trash service.
This account comes from Nicholas Lombardi, an inmate housed near Tyson's cell in December 2007.
So the case against Tyson consists of Hawkins, who initially lied to investigators and whose personal motivations are easily apparent; a jailhouse snitch with questionable pretext; and another man with a criminal record who allegedly overheard Tyson brag about the robbery at a party.
Tyson's court-appointed defense attorney, Frank Bankowitz of Orlando, declined to comment about the case.
He tried Thursday to allow the testimony of Candice McCracken and Johnny Smith, who told authorities they heard another man, Cody Prosser, tacitly take credit for the robbery.
But the judge would not allow the testimony, ruling it hearsay. Prosser, who was originally a suspect in the robbery, could not be located.
Court papers suggest Bankowitz plans to provide an alibi for his client.
Just days before the previously scheduled trial in December, Tyson's mother, Becky Tyson, came forward with a claim that her son was home eating spaghetti and meatballs that night. Prosecutors plan to use jailhouse tapes between her and her son to discredit her testimony.
From the start, Jamie Tyson has maintained his innocence.
John Frank can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6114.