A teenager was convicted of first-degree murder Saturday in the 1993 killing of a British tourist at a highway rest stop, one of a series of crimes that drove visitors away from Florida.
Juries in two earlier trials had deadlocked because of a lack of physical evidence tying John “Billy Joe” Crumitie to the slaying of Gary Colley during a bungled robbery at an Interstate 10 rest stop near Monticello, about 35 miles east of Tallahassee.
As the verdict was read, Crumitie, 18, put his head down on the table with a soft thump.
“It’s horrible, It’s horrible,” said Crumitie’s mother, Susie Mae Johnson, blaming the conviction on a change of venue to Pensacola. “The town ain’t nothing but a damn redneck town and Monticello is just the damn same.”
A jury in Monticello voted 11-1 and another in Gainesville split 9-3, both in favor of a conviction.
Crumitie testified he was was home asleep when Colley, 34, was killed. Colley’s longtime companion, 37-year-old Margaret Jagger, was wounded in the Sept. 14, 1993, shooting. She declined to comment after the verdict.
“I’m relieved it’s all over,” said Colley’s mother, Brenda Armitage. “The last two years have been very hard.”
Two co-defendants testified that Crumitie had participated in the shooting. Also, rest stop attendant Donald Spivey identified him as one of the assailants, and four other witnesses said he confessed to them.
Assistant State Attorney Michael Schneider said he believed the outcome was different this time because “the witnesses were better.” He said they appeared to be more comfortable in a smaller courtroom.
Schneider singled out Spivey, whose testimony was bolstered by the first-time introduction of a police drawing based on his description of one of the suspects. It bears a likeness to Crumitie.
Defense lawyer Dwight Wells claimed the identification was flawed because the face has close-cropped hair and no cap. Other witnesses testified Crumitie, whose hair was short during the trial, had dreadlocks at the time of the shooting and the attackers were wearing ball caps.
The latest jury deliberated nearly three hours Saturday before finding Crumitie guilty of first-degree murder, second-degree attempted murder, attempted armed robbery, robbery and shooting into an occupied vehicle.
The state isn’t seeking the death penalty, so Crumitie faces life in prison without parole for at least 25 years on the murder conviction alone. Circuit Judge Nikki Clark set sentencing for Oct. 19.
Wells plans to seek a new trial on grounds that only five blacks were in the 50-member pool from which the jury was selected. Crumitie is black and the victims white.
The jury was made up of two blacks - a man and a woman - two white men, seven white women and an Asian woman. Escambia County, where the trial was held, is 20 percent black.
Wells also had challenged the pool before jury selection began Monday, but Clark rejected his motion because he failed to demonstrate blacks were systematically excluded.