Bartow, Florida -- A judge today sentenced Joseph Bearden, 23, to life in prison for the killing of Ryan Skipper, a gay man stabbed 19 times nearly two years ago.
The sentence was handed down by Judge J. Michael Hunter just hours after a jury convicted Bearden of second degree murder, car theft, dealing in stolen property, tampering with evidence and being an accessory after the fact.
Prosecutors had sought a first degree murder conviction and the death penalty. They claimed the killing was a hate crime because Bearden allegedly had made derogatory comments and threats of violence towards gays.
During the trial, Bearden was accused of cutting and stabbing Skipper, 25, of Winter Haven at least 19 times and slitting his throat. Skipper bled to death where the body was found - on Morgan Road in Wahneta on March 14, 2007.
A second defendant, William David Brown, 22, of Wahneta, is awaiting trial.