A Gulf County jury found Walt Butler guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm after deliberating a little more than an hour on Thursday afternoon.
Butler was not convicted of the more serious hate crime enhancement, indicating Butler did not target Everett Gant because of his race.
Butler faces life in prison when he is sentenced Dec. 12.
Butler shot Gant in July 2012 at the Pine Ridge Apartments in Port St. Joe.
Gant died six weeks to the day later from his wound.
The four-trial continued Thursday with State Attorney Robert Sombathy calling his final witness, Medical Examiner Michael Hunter.
Sombathy and defense attorney Mark Sims questioned Hunter, who performed Gant’s autopsy, focusing on the severity of a shot to the head from a .22 rifle and providing the jury with published photos of the wound and bullet fragments.
Sims called just one witness as Butler did not take the stand.
Crime scene investigator Jay Smith, Jr. was asked by Sims if he had checked the sliding glass door of Butler’s apartment for fingerprints.
Smith said that he did not dust for prints because he didn’t know it was an issue in the case and he was not instructed to do so.
Who did and did not open the sliding glass patio door that Gant entered into Butler’s apartment was a central issue in the trial.
A bloody boot print found on the patio, where Gant lay bleeding when law enforcement arrived on the scene, was compared to witness Kenneth Dunham, but not the victim or defendant.
Sims’ closing statements relied heavily on Smith’s testimony, suggesting that responding officers hadn’t explored all avenues.
“This was terrible police work,” said Sims in reference to police not pursuing fingerprints or the boot print further. “Was there another witness in this case? Was there a neighborhood canvas?
“They made up their minds what had happened. If that’s not a reasonable doubt, I don’t know what is.”
Witnesses that had been with Gant prior to him leaving his apartment to speak with Butler about Butler’s use of racial epithets toward a child testified they had asked him not to go.
Sims suggested that Gant must have been angry, further reinforcing that Butler acted in self-defense.
“This trial, like all other trials, has been a search for the truth,” said Sombathy. “Blood does not lie. It cannot change its story.”
Sombathy traced Gant’s attempt to escape Butler’s patio through the blood smears he left behind.
He also encouraged the jury to dismiss Robert Lynn’s testimony.
Lynn had been in the apartment with Butler when Gant was shot, but after providing contradicting statements during several depositions and from the witness stand, Lynn acknowledged he had been drinking heavily with Butler the day of the shooting and had been drinking prior to the depositions.
He said he had two beers prior to testifying Wednesday.
“Walt Butler and Robert Lynn are liars,” said Sombathy. “It’s hard to remember lies. It’s much easier to remember the truth.”
Sombathy pointed out that many of the witnesses were Butler’s friends but they had no reason to lie for him. Sombathy said that alcohol was the source of the bad decisions made by Butler.
“Hold the defendant responsible for what he did,” Sombathy told the jury. “You can’t take back that bullet. Everett Gant was killed over other people’s drama.”
The jury began their deliberation at 4:25 p.m. ET and had reached a verdict an hour later.
Emotion was high for members of defendant’s family as the verdict was read and a forlorn-looking Butler waved to his family as he exited the courtroom.