On Aug. 11, a 12-member jury said La'Mathis Eugene "Bread Boy" Hamilton was guilty of fatally shooting Roland Henry Lanctot in January 2019.
On Thursday, after three days of testimony and closing arguments from Assistant State Attorney Amy Berndt and defense lawyer Young T. Tindall, another 12-member jury said Allison K. Mells also was guilty of first-degree murder and criminal solicitation to commit murder in the case.
The verdict was read aloud by the clerk at 1:41 p.m., more than two hours after deliberations began.
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Reactions from the families
"The whole case was based on he said/she said and they convicted my uncle on a he said/she said case," said Kent Foster, Mells' nephew. "I don't think he got a fair trial." Several of Mells' family members attended the trial.
"I miss him. My family is grateful for the outcome. The lawyers did a good job and I want to thank everyone. I want to thank all who testified, even some who didn't want to be here. Without them, we wouldn't get the outcome we deserve," said Lanctot's sister, Rosemarie Prince. She too attended the trial, and was present last week in the first case.
Prosecutors said Mells was the mastermind behind the plot to kill Lanctot. Mells was given an opportunity to say something in court after the verdict was announced, but he declined. He said he plans to appeal his conviction.
Retired Circuit Judge Willard Pope presided over the trial. He also was the judge in Hamilton's trial.
Pope asked the lawyers if Mells could be sentenced and both said yes. He sentenced Mells to life in prison, which is mandatory, with no parole. Hamilton had received the same sentence.
The body of Lanctot, who was homeless, was found by his sister inside his tent near a busy roadway.
Prosecutors said Lanctot's brutal death was a murder for hire engineered by Mells.
Lanctot was an important witness in a drug case against Mells' son, Kenneth Mills. Law enforcement officials said Mells hired Hamilton to silence Lanctot.
Hamilton, who's being held at the Marion County Jail, was called to the stand by the prosecutor outside the presence of the jury. He refused to testify. Berndt also was the prosecutor in Hamilton's trial.
According to testimony presented at both trials, Lanctot was shot three times – in the mouth, the side of the head and the back – with a .38-caliber gun.
Mells twice takes the witness stand
Mells was adamant that he wanted to testify in his own defense.
Wearing a white shirt and pants, the 57-year-old man told the court he has been at the Marion County Jail since his March 2019 arrest.
Mells said he wasn't aware of what was happening in his son's case and didn't know he had been arrested.
He said he knew Lanctot and considered him a good friend. Mells said while he sold drugs to the victim, he didn't know that Lanctot was a confidential informant. He made it known that he tried to find out who was the informant in his son's case.
On cross-examination, Berndt outlined that Mells has been convicted 16 times, mostly in drug cases.
Mells said while he was upset about his son's case, he denied trying to kill Lanctot.
He denied talking to Lanctot before his death. In fact, he said he had not seen or heard from Lanctot in months.
However, Berndt showed text messages linking both Lanctot and Mells. Mells said he doesn't recall talking to the victim, and he doesn't know how to text.
At the conclusion of his testimony, Mells told the judge he wanted to explain himself. The judge told him no. Walking away, Mells shook his head and mumbled to himself.
The judge allowed Mells to take the stand a second time so his lawyer could ask a few more questions.
On the stand, Mells told the court that he introduced Lanctot to Hamilton and doesn't remember dealing with the victim any more after that. He said while he was unsure if Lanctot was an informant, he told people not to trust him.
He said he did not tell Hamilton or anyone else to hurt Lanctot.
The prosecution speaks
Berndt said Mells was portrayed as a man who cared for people. But she reminded jurors that Mells is a 16-time convicted felon and has been trafficking and selling drugs for 30 years.
She said he preyed upon the most vulnerable people on the streets, and "the evidence in this case is overwhelming."
The prosecutor gave jurors a timeline tracking Lanctot's death and Mells' arrest. In several charts that were displayed on television screens, Berndt showed how Ocala police officials had interviewed witnesses and collect text messages. From that evidence, Berndt said, they were able to connect Mells to the killing.
"The plan to kill Lanctot was in the works for some time," Berndt said.
She said Mells found out that Lanctot was an informant in his son's case and was angry to the point that he had the man killed.
"He was shot in the mouth for being a snitch," the prosecutor said.
The defense speaks
Tindall told jurors that he doesn't believe the lesser charges of second-degree murder and manslaughter applied in this case. He said his client was "innocent" of all charges and said the state's case against Mells was purely "speculation."
The lawyer said the jury shouldn't hold Mells' 16 convictions against him.
"He's not charge with drugs," Tindall said, adding that Mells doesn't have a violent history.
He said Mells did not know anything about Lanctot being an informant, and the case against Mells' son had been moved or rescheduled multiple times.
He said those who testified for the state against Mells were not truthful.
Jurors began their deliberations at 10:55 a.m. after receiving instructions from the judge.
Shortly before 1 p.m., the judge was given a note from a judicial assistant. The note mentioned a letter written by Mells and dated Aug. 7. The judge was told the letter states that Mells wanted to dismiss Tindall from his case.
It wasn't the first time Mells had filed a motion to fire his lawyer. In May, Mells wanted to get rid of Tindall. A hearing was held last month before Circuit Judge Peter Brigham, who denied the request.
Pope told the lawyers that he was denying the motion because jurors had already began their deliberation and it was too late.
At 1:33 p.m., jurors said they had reached a verdict. They returned to the courtroom minutes later.
Contact Austin L. Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared on Ocala Star-Banner: Ocala, Florida man guilty of murder for plot that killed homeless man