JURY VERDICT: Final defendant convicted for brutal murder of Robert Banks

The fourth and final defendant charged with the murder of Robert Banks was found guilty by a jury Friday morning.

Anthony Johnson, 21.

After an hour and a half of deliberation, a jury convicted 21-year-old Anthony Johnson of first-degree murder, tampering with physical evidence, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, and battery. Johnson was immediately sentenced to life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Levine told jurors that on January 14, 2016, Anthony Johnson’s mother accused Banks of raping her.

Johnson lured Banks to his house the next day, where Banks was brutally beaten by Anthony Johnson, his two brothers – Nathan Johnson and Brian Johnson Jr. – and their friend Michael Gunn.

“We were just going to beat him up and send him to the hospital with a couple of broken bones and bruises,” Johnson said from the witness stand Thursday. “I felt like I had to (beat him up) because I gave him my mom’s number. I was responsible.”

But in addition to feeling responsible, Johnson admitted he personally wanted payback because he was angry.

Banks told the four men that he never touched their mother, but they turned a deaf ear to Banks and continued kicking him and stomping on him.

The men would run across the room to kick Banks as hard as they could in the face and in the head, shattering his face in the process.

In open court, Johnson demonstrated the force that he used when stomping and kicking Banks. He even agreed with Levine that his kicks were strong enough to have crushed Banks’ skull.

Johnson testified that there were “hundreds” of blows.

After all four men beat Banks, Gunn then grabbed a pipe and split his head open.

Close to the last minutes of his life, Nathan Johnson grabbed a flashlight and sexually battered Banks with it. He then helped Brian Johnson tighten an electrical cord around his neck and strangle him.

Nathan Johnson memorialized the murder by taking multiple cell phone photos of Banks’ beaten and battered body. He sent those photos to his mother.

Johnson admitted that he could have left the scene during the beating and that he could have called law enforcement, but because he felt responsible, he took matters into his own hands.

Assistant State Attorney Mark Levine addresses jurors during closing statements Thursday afternoon. Anthony Johnson was found guilty after only an hour and a half of deliberation.

“If Banks had raped your mother, it could have been handled and should have been handled by law enforcement and then prosecuted through a trial by jury,” Levine told Johnson. “But you took another route.”

“Yes,” Johnson said, admitting they murdered him as a way to handle the rape accusations themselves.

After killing Banks and taking photos of him, Nathan Johnson called his father – Brian Johnson Sr. – to tell him what they’d done. Once their father arrived, Nathan Johnson, Brian Johnson Jr, Brian Johnson Sr., and Michael Gunn wrapped Banks with trash bags and a blanket, loaded him into a jeep, and drove to Sumter County.

Banks’ body was dumped into the woods, doused with gasoline, and set on fire.

Anthony Johnson testified that he stayed at home to dismantle the mattress Banks’ body had been on and throw all the evidence away. He also cut out chunks of carpet with Banks’ blood on it and burned it.

Johnson told jurors he “flat-out lied” to law enforcement when they interviewed him and that he had a lot to lose if he was convicted. He claimed he was telling the truth in court but later contradicted himself by admitting he was always willing to lie and do whatever was necessary to cover up the fact that they’d murdered Robert Banks.

During closing arguments Thursday, Levine told jurors that it was not up to Johnson to kill another person because of an allegation.

“It was not his decision to make, yet he made that decision. For the decisions he made every step of the way, he should be held accountable,” Levine said. “Time after time, he chose what to do and how to do it, and he didn’t stop even when he had the chance.”

The defense argued that the incident was simply a beating that got out of control.

But Levine reminded jurors that anger and rage fueled Johnson and the others to an extent that they all participated in the brutal beating and murder of Robert banks.

“None of them stopped until (death) was accomplished,” Levine said. “A man is dead, and Anthony and his co-defendants are responsible for the fact that Robert Banks did not walk out of that house.”

State Attorney Brian Haas said he is pleased with the outcome of all four trials and is thankful for the hard work and dedication of Assistant State Attorney Mark Levine in securing the convictions and sentences.

From left to right: Anthony Johnson, Michael Gunn, Nathan Johnson, Brian Johnson Jr., Brian Johnson Sr.

Michael Gunn was convicted of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, abuse of a dead human body, and tampering with physical evidence and was sentenced to life in prison.

Nathan Johnson was convicted of first-degree murder, sexual battery, abuse of a dead human body, and tampering with physical evidence. He is facing life in prison.

Brian Johnson Jr. was convicted of second-degree murder, abuse of a dead human body, tampering with physical evidence, and battery. He is facing life in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 6.

Brian Johnson Sr. pled to accessory after the fact to a capital felony and abuse of a dead human body and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

JURY VERDICT: Poinciana man convicted of sexual battery, possession of child porn

Jason Bracero-Reyes sexually battered a 12-year-old girl and filmed nude videos of her.

Jason Bracero-Reyes, 34, of Poinciana.

After 45 minutes of deliberation, a jury convicted Bracero-Reyes June 20 of two counts of sexual battery with familial or custodial authority, eight counts of promoting sexual performance of a child, and eight counts of possession of child pornography.

He is facing life in prison and will be sentenced August 3.

Assistant State Attorney Mattie Tondreault told jurors that from January of 2015 to March of 2017, Bracero-Reyes battered the victim multiple times. The girl would tell him to stop, but 34-year-old Bracero-Reyes told her that she would be punished if she did not cooperate.

He also told her that if she did not go along with his advances, he would tell her family members. Bracero-Reyes convinced her they would never want to spend time with her again if they found out.

The victim eventually found enough courage to write her mother a letter, detailing Bracero-Reyes’ abuse over the past two years. The victim’s mother immediately reported Bracero-Reyes to law enforcement.

During the investigation, detectives found Bracero-Reyes’ old cell phone. It contained eight explicit videos of the victim, which were all taken without the girl’s knowledge.

Bracero-Reyes had wiped the timestamp and location data from the videos. At trial, the defense argued it was impossible to say Bracero-Reyes filmed them because there’s no way to know when and where the videos were taken.

While Bracero-Reyes wiped all of the metadata, he did not change the title of each video, which included the date and time the video was filmed.

The defense also claimed the videos were planted on the cell phone and that anyone could have filmed it because you never see the face of the person behind the camera.

But Tondreault pointed out that the victim identifies Bracero-Reyes in one of the videos when she calls him by name.

State Attorney Brian Haas said he is thankful for the hard work and dedication of Assistant State Attorney Mattie Tondreault in making sure this dangerous man can never harm another child.

SENTENCING UPDATE: Wauchula man receives life in prison for child molestation

Marvin Cook took advantage of two little girls and bribed them with money to keep quiet.

Marvin Cook, 62, of Wauchula.

Cook was convicted in October of sexual battery on a child under 12, four counts of lewd molestation, and one count of escape. He was designated a sexual predator and a dangerous sexual felony offender.

On April 24, Cook was sentenced to life in prison.

Assistant State Attorney David Stamey tried Cook’s case and said he molested the girls twice in a six-month period.

Two girls and two boys were playing in the street near Cook’s house in May of 2013, and they asked him for money to go to the neighborhood store. Cook gave the boys money and sent them on their way, but he told the girls they needed to play a game with him before they received theirs.

Cook lured the girls into his home and performed sexual acts on them. He told them not to tell their parents or the other little boys they were with, and once he gave them their money, he sent the girls to the store.

Months later, Cook was mowing a church lawn when he spotted the girls walking by. He lured them into the church, performed sexual acts on them, and gave them more money in exchange for their silence.

Shortly after the second incident, one victim’s grandmother overheard her talking to her brother, who was with her the first time Cook lured the girls into his house. She heard the two acknowledge that Cook touched her inappropriately.

Both of the victims were taken to the Hardee County Sheriff’s Office, where they identified Cook in a photo pack as the man who molested them.

When the Sheriff’s Office brought Cook in for questioning, he denied that anything had happened. As Cook was being moved from the investigation room to the detention room, they walked through the main lobby, and Cook took off running.

He made it off of HSCO property and into a nearby neighborhood before he was apprehended.

During trial, the defense argued that the victims identified the wrong man from the photo pack as the one who molested them.

Assistant State Attorney David Stamey. (FILE PHOTO)

But Stamey reminded jurors that when both girls took the stand, they pointed to Cook in the courtroom and identified him.

The defense also claimed that the victims made up the story and were not telling the truth.

“Why would they lie?” Stamey asked jurors in his closing arguments. “They got yanked out of school and had to talk about personal things with a stranger. They had to testify to strangers nearly four years later. What reward does that give them? What good has come out of this for the girls?”

SENTENCING UPDATE: Marcelin sentenced to 40 years for DUI manslaughter

At the end of a two-hour hearing Monday, James Marcelin was sentenced to 40 years in Florida State Prison.

James Marcelin walks into the courtroom on Monday afternoon for his sentencing hearing. Judge Roddenbery handed down a 40-year sentence following Marcelin’s March conviction of DUI manslaughter.

Marcelin, 27, was convicted by a jury on March 22 of DUI manslaughter, vehicular homicide, two counts of DUI with serious bodily injury, two counts of reckless driving resulting in serious bodily injury, three counts of driving while license suspended or revoked, and one count each of grand theft of a motor vehicle and burglary of a conveyance.

Assistant State Attorney Amy Smith argued that Marcelin should be sentenced to the max because “he is a danger to society.”

Marcelin had been partying all day on April 16, 2015, when he made the decision to drive three of his friends to Haines City. The four men started the day in Winter Haven, where they drank alcohol, smoked marijuana, and did drugs.

They went to a second party in Orlando, where they continued to drink and smoke. When they ran out of marijuana, Marcelin got behind the wheel of the van and attempted to drive them to another party in Haines City.

At about 11:15 p.m., while traveling at least 20 MPH over the speed limit, Marcelin drifted off the road way and lost control, braking for 88 feet before crashing head-on into a tree. The collision killed 19-year-old Andrew Valdez and critically injured Jose Almanzar and James Richards.

Valdez was thrown from the front passenger seat and into the windshield, where he was entrapped. He lost consciousness and never regained it.

He died on May 14, 2015.

Almanzar had a broken spine and a brain bleed. Richards had a cracked skull, which required 22 staples.

Both men were unconscious after the collision.

Marcelin had his right leg broken in two spots and a broken left arm, broken pelvis, sternum, and ribs. Multiple witnesses saw him in the driver’s seat and said he was the only occupant still conscious.

Assistant State Attorney Amy Smith (right) stands in front of Judge Roddenbery during James Marcelin’s sentencing hearing Monday afternoon. Smith argued that Marcelin should be sentenced to the max because “he is a danger to society.”

Judge Roddenbery agreed with Smith’s argument that Marcelin is a danger, and he was designated a habitual offender.

Roddenbery handed down a 40-year prison sentence, and at the defense’s objection to the lengthy sentence, the judge reminded him that it was because Marcelin’s reckless actions seriously injured two people and killed another.