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Man guilty of beating a drifter to death

Alan McCullers' shoulders slumped as the court clerk delivered the worst news of his life: Guilty.

Behind him, his mother started crying quietly as the clerk polled the jury. It had taken the panel two hours to find McCullers, 30, guilty of first-degree murder in the 1992 beating death of 60-year-old drifter Raymond Kocis.

The verdict shocked McCullers' family, which had been observing the trial from the beginning. Wails of grief shook the hall outside the courtroom.

The jury will continue hearing testimony today in the penalty phase of the trial. McCullers could face the death penalty or life in prison without opportunity for parole before 25 years.

Kocis was fatally beaten over two cigarettes, according to trial testimony.

The drifter, who had a history of mental illness and alcoholism, begged McCullers and Robert Moore for a ride outside a Shady Hills convenience store.

They gave him a ride in Moore's Ford Probe and at one point Kocis tried to grab Moore's cigarette pack, which contained his last two cigarettes.

The men thought Kocis' behavior rated a beating, and they gave him one, according to a witness who identified both men. Moore, 33, also was charged with first-degree murder and will be tried in August.

Kocis' nude, battered body was found the next day, Oct. 25, 1992, alongside a dirt road in Shady Hills. The deputy who found Kocis said there were marks by his feet that looked like they might have been made by his feet moving.

Kocis was 5 foot 8 and weighed 116 pounds. But Medical Examiner Joan Wood testified that an autopsy revealed damage from a beating that could have killed a healthy man.

McCullers' attorney, public defender Doug Loeffler, argued to the jury that there was no evidence McCullers meant to kill Kocis. "There was just no intent to kill here," Loeffler said afterward.

But Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis argued that the extent and severity of the beating, as well as Kocis' death, showed that McCullers meant it.