Jurors hear kin of 2 Md. men killed in Fla. in '98

Tributes are offered in trial's penalty phase

March 24, 2001|By Ludmilla Lelis | Ludmilla Lelis,ORLANDO SENTINEL

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - For the first time in the two-month trial, Kevans Hall II and Matthew Wichita weren't just the two men on spring break who were fatally stabbed three years ago.

In tributes that moved several jurors to tears, weeping family members and friends testified during the penalty phase yesterday that the Columbia residents were men of hope and promise who are loved and missed by many.

"He was the life of the party," said Hall's mother, Jill Carter. "There was times I wanted to kill myself because I can't deal with the pain of losing my son. He didn't have a chance to say goodbye to his mommy, his brother, his nephew that he loved so much."

The testimony from eight family members and friends ended the state's case against Jonathan Trull, 30, who was convicted of first-degree murder March 10 and could face the death penalty. Two of Trull's brothers were convicted of aggravated assault in the 1998 stabbings.

The judge will make the final decision about Trull's punishment, but the jury will recommend whether he should get life in prison or the death sentence.

A computerized slide show showed Hall and Wichita - who were 23 and 21, respectively, when they were killed - growing from boys into men in their early 20s.

A neighborhood friend, Nathan Johnson, remembered Hall's smile. Glenda Johnson, Hall's aunt, remembered that he was so close to her children that it was as if he had been her son.

Wichita's father, Michael Wichita Sr., remembered how his son loved to play with his younger cousins. Michael Wichita Jr. said his brother taught him to relax, have fun and enjoy life, things he said he hasn't been able to do since his brother's death.

Karin Neperud, Wichita's stepsister, said family get-togethers and holidays have been filled with pain since his death. Wichita's stepfather remembered his leadership in the Boy Scouts, his skills as an athlete and the hundreds who attended his funeral.

Christine Neperud, Wichita's mother and the last to testify, told jurors of losing "the delight of my life."

"I will miss seeing his hopes and dreams fulfilled," Neperud said. "The void to my heart will never completely heal."

Next week, Trull's defense attorney will present witnesses, and Trull is expected to take the stand.

The jury is expected to begin deliberating on the penalty by the end of next week.

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