Jury favors life term for Trull

Oldest of 3 brothers spared death penalty in killing of 2 in Fla.

1st-degree murder conviction

Columbia

March 30, 2001|By Ludmilla Lelis | Ludmilla Lelis,ORLANDO SENTINEL

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. - A jury recommended yesterday that a man convicted of killing two Howard County men in April 1998 be spared the death sentence.

After deliberating for an hour, the 12-member jury recommended that Jonathan Trull be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the first-degree murders of Matthew Wichita and Kevans Hall II and for the attempted first-degree murder of Seth Qubeck. All three victims lived in Columbia.

Circuit Judge Shawn L. Briese will make a final decision, but judges rarely overturn a jury's recommended sentence in a death penalty case.

Trull, 30, of Oak Hill, Fla., showed little emotion when the recommendation was read. He has denied stabbing the three men.

The oldest of three brothers accused in the 1998 slayings of the visitors, Jonathan Trull was the only one convicted of first-degree murder.

This month, Christopher Trull, 27, was convicted of two counts of aggravated assault, and Joshua Trull, 20, was convicted of one count of aggravated assault and one count of aggravated battery. They will be sentenced later.

Four other men who fought alongside them pleaded guilty to lesser charges in exchange for their testimony.

Commenting on the jury's decision, Wichita's father, Michael Wichita Sr., said he felt a death sentence would have been appropriate for the crimes.

Christine Neperud, Wichita's mother, said she thought justice was served.

The parents and other relatives of the victims were relieved that the trial, which started Jan. 22, was finally over.

"I feel like I've been going to his funeral all these weeks," said Jill Carter, Hall's mother. "But now I can go home and grieve and start my new life now like my son would want."

On the night of April 16, 1998, Hall, Wichita and Qubeck were attacked at the New Smyrna condominium where they were staying. In a two-minute attack, Wichita, 21, was stabbed 19 times; Hall, 23, stabbed three times; and Qubeck, 21, stabbed 17 times.

The trial featured conflicting testimony from the four men who testified against the Trulls. They told jurors they saw Christopher and Jonathan use knives, but were forced to acknowledge that they had lied initially to investigators.

Jury foreman Michael King wouldn't explain why the panel only found Jonathan Trull guilty of murder.

"The jury spent a tremendous amount of time - step by step," King said. "The case was very complicated."

Relatives of the victims were upset that statements they gave during the sentencing portion of the trial, describing the lives of their slain loved ones, were limited.

Carter would not comment on the killings. Instead, she focused on the memory of her son.

"Kevans died as a peacemaker, a hero, and those who honor him and saw him as that outweighs those who didn't," she said.

"There will never be closure in my life," Neperud said. "Matthew's death will always be a wound in my heart."

The court will have one more hearing Tuesday, and Briese will hand down a sentence in the next few weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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