BRADENTON - A Lakewood Ranch High School star athlete and his friend have been charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death and robbery of a 19-year-old man, opening up the possibility for the state to mount a death-penalty case.
The grand jury indictment filed this week against football standout Timothy L. Brooks and friend Cody P. Rogers shows that prosecutors believe the shooting was an intentional, premeditated act rather than an accident or self-defense, among other scenarios.
Prosecutor Art Brown, a homicide prosecution specialist, said the state will review the facts and circumstances before deciding whether to launch a death-penalty case against Brooks and Rogers, both 18.
Prosecutors have two ways to prove the charges: either by showing forethought or under a felony murder theory, which holds a person accountable for a death that happens during the course of another crime.
The reflection period required for proving premeditated murder can be anywhere from years or even moments before a killing. The element of premeditation is routinely challenged in first-degree murder cases, and it is expected to be a central issue in this case.
"There is no specific time frame for premeditation," Professor Christopher Slobogin, chairman of the University of Florida law program, said Tuesday. "But it can't be a whim. It can't be impulse. It can't be casual intent."
Long-term planning, Slobogin said, is not necessary.
But the Florida Supreme Court indicated in a capital case last year that a few seconds of thought might not be enough to support premeditation.
In a second-degree murder case, prosecutors do not need to prove a person intended to kill. The state, however, must show a person acted in a depraved mind and committed an act that was likely to result in death.
Orlando Valenzuela, 16, was recently convicted of second-degree murder for shooting into a Bradenton crowd, killing 9-year-old Stacy Williams III. Valenzuela faces 25 years to life when he is sentenced.
An indictment does not always lead to a capital punishment case. Absent the death penalty, a person convicted for first-degree murder is automatically sentenced to a life term.
Prosecutors review a defendant's motive and the manner of death, among other factors, before deciding whether to mount a capital case.
Thomas Fast was indicted in the murder of his 60-year-old stepmother, Susan, but local prosecutors are not seeking the death penalty for Fast, who has a long history of mental illness.
In the Brooks-Rogers case, the family of the shooting victim, William "Billy" White, supported the indictment, saying that Brooks and Rogers must be held accountable for the July 13 shooting.
"We just want justice served, the maximum, of course, to keep these kids off the street - to stop them from killing someone else's family member," said White's father, William White Sr.
He said he does not care if Brooks is "a football star or Superman. To me, he's a cold-blooded murderer."
Rogers, who has a criminal history as a juvenile that includes robbery and battery, was arrested Tuesday morning.
He had been free on $500,000 bail.