Jury finds Daniels guilty

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By Alice Du Pont

A 12-member jury unanimously found 36-year-old Hernandez Lopaz Daniels of Havana guilty of premeditated first-degree murder in a Gadsden County courtroom filled with relatives of the victim and the defendant. Daniels, who is serving a life sentence in federal prison, showed no emotion when the verdict was read.

Assistant State Attorney Richard Combs, who had requested the death penalty in the case, did not want to comment on the verdict.

"There is the penalty phase to go through and I just don't think it's appropriate to comment at this time. Plus, there is another trial of the other person coming up," Combs said.

The other person Combs referred to is Fernando Taylor, the man accused of actually firing the shots that killed Constance Dupont, on Daniels instructions. That trial, Combs said, would be set soon.

The jury will decide whether Daniels will receive the death penalty during a separate part of the trial today, beginning at 1:30 p.m. Family members of Daniels and Dupont will have an opportunity to address the jury and Circuit Judge Kathleen Dekker.

"I'm just happy this part is over. We have one more (trial) to go through. I can't say that I'm relieved right now," said Dupont's sister-in-law, Marsha Hunter.

In closing arguments Clyde Taylor, attorney for Daniels, tried to convince the jury that the testimony of "four snitches" from various jails could not be trusted. He also said that the jury should have a reasonable doubt about Daniels' guilt because there were at least two other people who had reason to want Dupont dead. Taylor told the jury that if they had any reasonable doubt about the evidence that was presented, they should acquit Daniels.

"Who had the motives? Who had the greater motives? Anna Chukes and her son-in-law," Taylor said.

Chukes admitted from the witness stand that she made threats against Dupont but denied that she acted on those threats. Taylor said it was a sad day in the judicial system when the state attorney prosecuted a citizen on the word of "four rats and a couple of flat beers."

Combs systematically laid out for the jury the sequence of events that led to Dupont's murder in her Havana apartment between 3:45 and 5 a.m. on the morning of Aug. 3, 2002. When word started to spread throughout Havana that Dupont was "hooked up with FDLE" Daniels, who had sold Dupont $250 worth of drugs two weeks earlier, became suspicious and plotted to get rid of her, according to Combs.

"Daniels understood how things worked with FDLE because he himself had been a confidential informant," Combs told the jury.

He called off an arranged meeting with Dupont where he was supposed to sell her more cocaine in the parking lot of the Tallahassee Mall two days before she was killed. And a trail of telephone calls from Daniels to Dupont and others made it seem that something was amiss. One witness identified the voice of Delvontez Washington, Daniels' brother, as the individual who made the bogus 911 call that lured police away from surveillance near Dupont's apartment to the southern part of the city of Havana. It was during that time period, Combs said, that Dupont was shot several times through a front window and killed in her apartment.

Combs asked the jury not to minimize the circumstances of the four inmates who testified that Daniels, at different intervals and in different prisons, told the jury that Daniels talked about getting rid of the witness who was going to testify against him.

"There is a motto running through all of the conversations he had with people. He liked to give advice. His motto (to other inmates) was no witness, no case," said Combs.