A Polk County, Florida jury has found
Joseph Bearden guilty of the second-degree murder of 25-year-old Ryan
Keith Skipper, an openly gay man.
The trial opened with the testimony of
the woman who made the ghastly discovery of Skipper's bloody body
stabbed to death sitting on the side of a dirt road that leads to the
small town of Wahneta in the early hours of March 14, 2007.
Charlotte Upchurch testified that she
never actually saw Skipper's face, whose body was lying face down in
“There was a man's body lying in the
road ... I called out to him, and there was no answer and no
movement,” she said.
Associate Medical Examiner Vera Volnikh
said a slash to the throat 3.5 inches deep killed Skipper, who
quickly bled to death. She also testified that it appeared as if
Skipper attempted to fight off his attackers. Cuts found on the
victim's hands, wrists and arms indicated he tried to block the
knife, said Volnikh, who performed Skipper's autopsy.
Some cuts were deeper than others,
leaving the possibility that Skipper's 163-pound body blunted the
blades of two knives.
“It could have been two different
knives,” she said.
Investigators claim that Joseph
Bearden, 23, and co-defendant William David Brown Jr., 22, killed
Skipper. Police say a witness claims that Skipper was killed because
he was making sexual advances towards one of the men. Brown is set
to stand trial separately.
On Tuesday, Brown asserted his Fifth
Amendment right not to testify when called to the stand.
Bearden also refused to testify on his
The testimony of Ray Allen Brown, the
cousin of co-defendant William Brown, Jr., seems likely to have
weighed heavily on jurors. Ray Allen told the court that he saw
Bearden and his cousin leaving with Skipper shorty before he was
But Angela Tyler's testimony seemed to
contradict those statements. She said Ray Allen confessed to her
seeing his cousin stab the victim to death.
The conflicting testimony of Ray
Allen's knowledge of the murder and his whereabouts at the time of
the murder did not derail jurors, who found Bearden guilty of second
degree murder after nearly 11 hours of deliberation. Bearden was sentenced to life in prison. He was also found guilty of theft of a motor
vehicle, accessory to after-the-fact, tampering with evidence and
dealing in stolen property, reports the Orlando Sentinel.
Police originally told the media that
Skipper met Bearden, who was hitchhiking, while driving looking to
pick up someone. The pair returned to Skipper's home where they
smoked marijuana, and decided to use his notebook computer to commit
check fraud. The two drove to a home owned by Brown's uncle where
they met up with Brown.
Witnesses at the home said the three
men left, but only Bearden and Brown returned 15 minutes later, their
clothing stained with blood.
Skipper's car was found three days
later at a nearby dock. The car was soiled with blood and,
investigators said, Bearden and Brown had unsuccessfully tried to set
the month-old, powder blue Chevrolet Aveo on fire. Detectives say
they recovered fingerprints of both suspects from the car.
Family, friends and gay rights groups
have rejected many of the details laid out by investigators. And
call many of the statements made by the police “character
Skipper's parents turned to gay
activism after the death of their son. Lynn Mulder, Skipper's
stepfather, heads the Polk County chapter of PFLAG.