BARTOW, Fla. (AP) - A Polk County man has been convicted of
second-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in the death
of a 25-year-old gay man.
After nearly two days of deliberation, jurors returned a guilty
verdict on Friday for 23-year-old Joseph Eli Bearden. Prosecutors
had been pushing for a first-degree murder conviction. Bearden's
defense attorney called the verdict a partial victory because the
death penalty is now off the table.
Bearden is one of two men charged with the 2007 murder of Ryan
Skipper. Prosecutors say Bearden and 22-year-old William David
Brown Jr. fatally stabbed Skipper and stole his Chevrolet Aveo.
Brown is still awaiting trial.
Skipper's death received much attention from gay rights
advocates, many of whom believe the murder was a hate crime.