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 the road.

“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 own behalf.

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 killed.

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 assassinations.”

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.