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Man convicted of stabbing, burning cabbie to death

Genghis Kocaker should receive the death penalty for stabbing and burning a taxi driver to death in his cab four years ago, jurors said by an 11 to 1 margin Friday.

Kocaker, 44, was convicted of first-degree murder Thursday for killing Eric J. Stanton in Clearwater.

The jury's recommendation to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone came after assistant state attorney Bill Loughery told them Kocaker had a history of violent crime, was on felony probation at the time of the murder and committed a crime that was especially heinous, atrocious and cruel.

"The words don't even describe what he did," Loughery said during closing arguments Friday.

"He could see the cab rocking and rolling while Eric Stanton was trying to kick his way out," he said. "And he was watching him while he was roasted alive. It doesn't get any worse than that, folks."

Stanton's family said it was hard to listen to how their son died during the trial.

"When you're hearing testimony from the fire marshal about how hot the fire was when Eric crawled through it, it's difficult to keep it all in," said Stanton's mother, Kyra Giuliano of New Port Richey.

She said she was satisfied when Kocaker was convicted that he would never be free again, "so that no other parent ever has to go through what we went through."

But Stanton's father, Phil Stanton of Spring Hill, said Kocaker was getting off easy.

"He'll have no suffering," he said. "He showed no remorse. None."

During the penalty phase of the trial on Friday, the defense presented evidence that Kocaker had an abnormal brain and a multiple personality disorder.

There was no evidence that Kocaker stood by watching the cab after setting it ablaze, said defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand of Clearwater.

Factors mitigating against the death penalty, he said, include the lifelong absence of Kocaker's father, sexual abuse he suffered as a child, his abnormal brain, mental illness, possible mental deterioration due to HIV, a history of substance abuse and the fact that he was under the influence the night of the crime.

And Kocaker himself took the stand to give an account of his life that other witnesses contradicted. He claimed to have grown up in Tarpon Springs, which he did not, and to have served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam even though the war occurred while he was still a child.

Despite his mental problems, Brunvand said, Kocaker still had a loving relationship with his mother and sister.

"Is this a case that requires the death penalty or are there mitigating circumstances that allow us to say this man should (die) in the Florida state prison," Brunvand said. "I would suggest to you that that is a just sentence."

Jurors, however, spent less than an hour before reaching their recommendation, which Bulone will consider in sentencing Kocaker. No sentencing date was set in the case, which began on Sept. 1, 2004.

That day, an anonymous caller told 911 operators that someone was dead inside a taxi in the parking lot of an Eckerd Drug store on S Missouri Avenue.

Authorities found Stanton stabbed, his throat slashed, bound with a seat belt and locked in the trunk of the cab, which was set ablaze. Despite his injuries, Stanton pushed his way from the trunk into the passenger compartment, but he died of smoke inhalation and his stab wounds.

Detectives developed Kocaker, who had served prison time for manslaughter and armed robbery, as a suspect after learning he lived with his sister two blocks away.

Investigators found a surveillance video showing Kocaker making the anonymous 911 call. He told detectives Stanton, a computer enthusiast who was driving a cab to earn money for school, had given him a ride the night he died, but he denied killing the cabbie.

Detectives also tied Kocaker to the murder through a blood-soaked gray Fruit of the Loom T-shirt found on the back seat of the cab and a gas can found on the front seat.

Kocaker's sister told them her brother's gray T-shirt was missing from her home, as was the gas can.

And Kocaker's crack dealer told detectives that Kocaker had run out of money a couple of days before the murder, but was flush with cash from what he said was a robbery the night of Aug. 31.

Kocaker asked the dealer to pick him up at the Walgreens across the street from the Eckerd where Stanton's body would be found the next day. When the dealer met his customer, Kocaker had blood on his shirt.

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

Man convicted of stabbing, burning cabbie to death 06/13/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 17, 2008 1:13pm]
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