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Supreme Court of Florida 
No. SC00-1185 



[November 7, 2002] 
We have on appeal the judgment and sentence of the trial court imposing the 
death penalty upon Ronald Lee Bell, Jr. We have jurisdiction. See art. V, 
§ 3( b)( 1), Fla. Const. For the reasons expressed below, we affirm Bell's 
convictions but reduce the sentence of death on this seventeen-year-old to life 
imprisonment without the possibility of parole. 
1Page 23
Ronald Lee Bell, Jr., was found guilty by a jury of first-degree murder with a 
deadly weapon and armed kidnaping with a weapon. Bell was seventeen years and 
ten months of age at the time that these crimes were committed. He lived with his 
parents and was a high school senior. The victim of both crimes was Cordell 
Richards and the crimes occurred on February 2 and 3, 1999. The testimony at 
trial detailed the following sequence of events. 
On March 4, 1999, Richards' decomposing body was found in a wooded 

area at the end of a cul-de-sac in an undeveloped portion of a housing subdivision 
in Okaloosa County. Richards' remains, which were partially skeletonized and 
burned, were tied to a tree with a chain and a rope. 
Dr. Michael Berkland, the medical examiner, inspected the remains at the 
scene and then performed the autopsy. Dr. Berkland found that the body was in an 
advanced state of decomposition and that there were multiple fractures to the head, 
which were the result of blunt force trauma. He also found injury to the victim's 
shoulder blade, sternum, ribs, arm and wrist. Based upon the burn patterns, Dr. 
Berkland concluded that the burning occurred post-mortem. Dr. Berkland also 
concluded that the manner of death was homicidal violence with combined features 
of blunt force trauma to the head, body, and upper extremities, and probable chop 
injury to the left neck. 2 
2Page 34
1. Maestas was convicted at trial of first-degree murder and was sentenced 
to life imprisonment. According to the sentencing order, Maestas was sixteen at 
the time of the crime and the State did not seek the death penalty against her. 

2. Maestas stated that she decided to testify at Bell's trial in the hope that she 
might gain some benefit in a future clemency petition. In exchange for Lincks's 
testimony at Bell's trial, the State allowed her to plead guilty to manslaughter and 
false imprisonment with a deadly weapon, with a maximum sentence of fifteen 
years. Lincks was fifteen years old at the time of the crime. 


Kimberly Maestas, Renee Lincks, and Bell were all charged with the murder 
of Richards. 1 Maestas and Lincks testified against Bell, and the testimony 
regarding the events leading up to the homicide of Richards came primarily from 
them. 2 At the time of the homicide, Bell, who was seventeen, and Maestas, who 
was sixteen, had been dating for a few months. Maestas had been "kicked out" of 
her parents' home. Maestas and Bell met Richards through a newspaper listing 
advertising a place to live, and Maestas moved into the extra bedroom in Richards' 
apartment. Richards was thirty-one years of age. 
Maestas testified that after she moved into Richards' apartment, Richards 
made inappropriate sexual advances. Richards would come into Maestas's room 
wearing only bikini underwear. One time Richards propositioned her for sex. 
Maestas testified that when she said "no," Richards grabbed her shoulders and 
pushed her against the wall. She started to cry and asked him not to do that. 3 
3Page 45
3. Sometime prior to the crime, Bell and Maestas bought a chain, a rope, 
and a lock. 


Richards pushed her against the wall a second time and she hit her head. Maestas 
testified that Bell found out about Richards' attack when he saw the bruises on 
Maestas's back. 
Lincks, who was fifteen, was a friend of Maestas, and came to the apartment 
to spend the night with her. That night, Richards asked Maestas and Lincks if they 
wanted to sleep with him in his bed. This made Maestas and Lincks 
uncomfortable, and so Lincks called a friend, who took them to Bell's house. Bell 
later took Maestas and Lincks back to Richards' apartment and left a baseball bat 
with them in case something happened. Later, Richards called Maestas and Lincks 
from his bedroom telephone and made statements that upset them, so they paged 
Bell and he came to the apartment to help them. 
When Bell entered the apartment, he confronted Richards about his behavior 
towards Maestas and Lincks. Bell and Richards started pushing one another. Bell 
placed Richards in a choke hold and Richards lost consciousness. Bell told Lincks 
to get the bat and she gave it to Maestas. Maestas hit Richards in the legs with the 
bat. Bell told Lincks to get a rope from his car 3 and a blanket from Richards' bed. 4 
4Page 56
Richards was tied with the rope, rolled in the blanket and placed in Bell's car. Bell 
then drove to a wooded area at the end of a cul-de-sac. 
Maestas held the flashlight while Bell and Lincks carried Richards into the 
woods. At some point they stopped, and Bell told Maestas to shine the flashlight 
in Richards' face while Lincks asked Richards for his PIN numbers. Bell then told 
Maestas to hit Richards with the baseball bat, which she did, and Richards asked 
Bell not to kill him. Lincks also hit Richards with the baseball bat. According to 
Maestas and Lincks, Bell told them that they were not hitting Richards hard enough 
and so Bell hit Richards very hard and said, "Look, I'm Babe Ruth." They then 
carried Richards deeper into the woods and tied and chained him to a tree. 
Maestas testified that Bell poured lighter fluid on Richards and set Richards on fire 
while he was still alive and groaning. 
Bell returned to the scene a few more times. He first returned later that day 
with Maestas and Lincks to make sure that Richards was dead. Bell and Lincks 
went into the woods while Maestas waited at the car. Bell and Lincks could hear 
Richards yelling for help. When Bell and Lincks returned to the car, Lincks told 
Maestas that Bell had tried to break Richards' neck. They left the scene and drove 
to a Target store where they bought a meat cleaver and duct tape and then returned 
to Richards' location. Bell and Lincks went back into the woods, where Bell cut 5 
5Page 67
Richards' throat. The two then returned to Maestas five or ten minutes later. Bell 
went back to the body again after he and Lincks decided that Bell had not cut 
Richards' throat enough. 
That night, a friend of Bell's came over and helped to forge checks on 
Richards' account. A few days later, they pawned Richards' television and violin. 
About a week after that, Bell, Maestas and Maestas's fourteen-year-old sister went 
to Richards' location again. Richards was dead at this time. Bell poured gasoline 
on the body and started a fire. 
On February 13, 1999, the police went to Richards' apartment to check on 

Richards' whereabouts after one of Richards' friends told the police that he had 
been unable to contact Richards. The officers tried to get the attention of anyone 
who might be in the apartment by pounding on the doors and windows. When no 
one responded, one of the officers entered the apartment through a window. One 
of the bedroom doors was secured with a deadbolt lock and a towel was stuffed 
underneath the door. The officers knocked on the bedroom door and Bell opened 
it. Maestas was in a sleeping bag on the floor. Bell and Maestas appeared to be 
just waking up. They denied knowing anything about Richards' whereabouts. 6 
6Page 78
After the State presented its case, Bell waived his right to present evidence 
and his right to testify. The jury thereafter found Bell guilty of first-degree murder 
with a deadly weapon and armed kidnaping with a weapon. 
At the penalty phase, the State presented no additional evidence. Bell 

presented the testimony of his father and grandfather, as well as school and jail 
records. Bell's father, Ronald Bell, Sr., who is a youth pastor, testified that Bell 
was an usher at his church and vice president of the youth district association. He 
also said that Bell was a high school senior who planned to join the Air Force to 
become an electrician. In addition, Bell's father testified that Bell attended school 
regularly and had maintained several jobs, which contributed to the family's income. 
Bell's grandfather, Austin Lee Bell, who is a minister, testified that while 
growing up, Bell spent weekends with him and his wife and that Bell's grandmother 
was a strict disciplinarian. He said that during Bell's visits to his house, Bell would 
attend his grandfather's church and participate in youth activities. 
The jury recommended the death penalty by a vote of twelve to zero. The 
trial court imposed a sentence of death, finding the following five statutory 
aggravators: (1) the capital felony was committed during a kidnaping; (2) the 7 
7Page 89
capital felony was committed to avoid arrest; (3) the capital felony was committed 
for pecuniary gain; (4) the capital felony was heinous, atrocious or cruel (" HAC"); 
and (5) the capital felony was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated 
manner (" CCP"). The trial court also found one statutory mitigator--Bell's age of 
seventeen years and ten months at the time of the crime (little weight)--and seven 
nonstatutory mitigators: (1) disparate treatment of codefendants Lincks and 
Maestas (little weight); (2) Bell was a good student (little weight); (3) Bell was a 
model prisoner while awaiting trial (very little weight); (4) Bell had a good family 
support system (little weight); (5) Bell was active in church (slight weight); (6) Bell 
was gainfully employed for various periods of time, and had the potential to finish 
high school and further his education (some weight); and (7) Bell has a very 
supportive extended church family (little weight). The trial court found that the 
aggravators outweighed the mitigators and agreed with the jury's unanimous 
decision in favor of the death penalty. 8 
8Page 910
4. Bell claims that (1) the trial court erred in allowing the prosecutor during 
his guilt-phase rebuttal closing argument to accuse defense counsel of telling the 
jury not to follow the law and that the prosecutor levied an improper personal 
attack against defense counsel; (2) the trial court erred in failing to give proper 
consideration and weight to Bell's age of seventeen at the time of the crime; (3) a 
death sentence for offenders under the age of eighteen is unconstitutional; (4) the 
trial court erred in improperly considering the aggravator that the homicide was 
committed to avoid arrest; and (5) imposition of the death sentence in the absence 
of notice of the aggravating circumstances to be considered or of jury findings on 
the aggravators and death eligibility violates due process and the protection against 
cruel or unusual punishment or both. 


On appeal, Bell now raises one guilt-phase and four penalty-phase issues. 4 
Although Bell does not raise the issue of sufficiency of the evidence on appeal, we 
have independently reviewed the evidence in this case and we conclude that the 
evidence is sufficient to support the convictions. See Sexton v. State, 775 So. 2d 
923, 933-34 (Fla. 2000); Brown v. State, 721 So. 2d 274, 277 (Fla. 1998) (citing § 
921.141( 4), Fla. Stat. (1997)). 
Bell raises one claim of error during the guilt phase: that a portion of the 
prosecutor's closing argument constituted an improper personal attack on defense 
counsel. He also asserts in connection with this argument that the trial court erred 9 
9Page 1011
in allowing the State to accuse defense counsel of telling the jury not to follow the 
Bell relies on our recent decision in Brooks v. State, 762 So. 2d 879, 904-05 
(Fla. 2000), to support his argument that the State personally attacked the defense 
and told the jury not to follow the law. However, unlike Brooks, in this case the 
State's closing argument remarks were in response to a defense argument that the 
jury should give Bell the same sentence that a codefendant received. Therefore, the 

argument was not an improper personal attack on defense counsel but a response 
to defense counsel's own argument to the jury. Even if there was error in this case, 
we would conclude that these isolated comments were harmless beyond a 
reasonable doubt. Accordingly, we reject Bell's claim on this issue. 

In its sentencing order, the trial court found Bell's age at the time of the crime 
to be a mitigating factor and gave the mitigator little weight. On appeal, Bell now 
contends that the trial court was laboring under an erroneous legal standard when 
finding and weighing Bell's age as a mitigator. At the sentencing hearing, the court 
also discussed the nonstatutory mitigator of the disparate treatment of codefendant, 
Renee Lincks. In particular, the court stated: 10 
10Page 1112
This Court determines that the Office of the State Attorney could not have 
legally sought the death penalty against co-defendant Renee Lincks as she 
was fifteen years of age at the time the crimes were committed, and therefore, 
it is constitutionally impermissible to apply the death penalty to a fifteen year 
old. Further, the Office of the State Attorney did not seek the death penalty 
in the trial of co-defendant Kristal Maestas, and therefore, her sentence of life 
in prison was the only sentence open to this Court. 

After the trial court completed the sentencing, the State advised the court as 
STATE: Judge, your order, I think, contains a misstatement of the law, in 
that after the arrest of these individuals, the Court found that it 
was unconstitutional to execute a minor under the age of 
seventeen. You stated under the age of sixteen. COURT: Fifteen. 

STATE: Under the age of seventeen. In other words anyone that hasn't 
reached their seventeenth birthday cannot receive the death 
penalty. The Supreme Court changed the law after Maestas was 
arrested, and we were legally precluded from seeking the death 
penalty for Maestas. COURT: Okay, I thought it was just Lincks you were precluded from. 

STATE: I didn't want to upstage you or anything here, but I wanted to 
state for the record that that's the law and give you an 
opportunity to amend your order. 
COURT: All right, I'll make a written amendment. Is that agreeable with 

The trial court thereafter made that handwritten change in the sentencing order to 
the section marked "non-statutory mitigating factors: The disparate treatment of 
co-defendant Renee Lincks" and the Court announced the change orally to Bell. 11 
11Page 1213
This Court has determined that the death penalty is cruel or unusual if 
imposed on a defendant under the age of seventeen. See Brennan v. State, 754 So. 
2d 1, 7 (Fla. 1999). Although the trial court initially was incorrect with regard to the 
constitutionally permissible age of execution, that error was corrected when the 
State brought the error to the trial court's attention. Thus, the trial court's statement 
about the legal age of execution did not improperly affect the weight it accorded to 
Bell's age. 
This Court has determined that "[ t] he relative weight given each mitigating 
factor is within the discretion of the sentencing court." Trease v. State, 768 So. 2d 
1050, 1055 (Fla. 2000). However, in Urbin v. State, 714 So. 2d 411, 418 (Fla. 
1998), we stated that "the closer the defendant is to the age where the death penalty 
is constitutionally barred, the weightier [the age] statutory mitigator becomes." 
Further, in Ellis v. State, 622 So. 2d 991, 1001 (Fla. 1993), the Court stated: 
Whenever a murder is committed by one who at the time was a minor, 
the mitigating factor of age must be found and weighed, but the weight 
can be diminished by other evidence showing unusual maturity. It is 
the assignment of weight that falls within the trial court's discretion in 
such cases. 

(Emphasis supplied.) 
Although the Court in Ellis acknowledged that the assignment of weight falls 
within the trial court's discretion, when the statutory mitigator is age and the 12 
12Page 1314
defendant is a minor that discretion is limited. Indeed, the Ellis Court also stated 
that "there must be some evidence tending to support the finding of unusual 
maturity. Otherwise, the mitigating factor of age must be accorded full weight as a 
statutory mitigating factor." Id. at 1001 n. 7 (emphasis supplied). The Court noted 
that if the trial court were to have unbridled discretion in the application of the age 
mitigator, then in effect the trial court would have the ability to exclude everyone 
from the category. See id. at 1001. According to Ellis, "nothing in the statute 
reflects any intention that a court should have discretion to render the statute 
applicable to no one at all." Id. Thus, the trial court must afford the mitigating 
factor of age "full" weight, unless the trial court makes a finding of unusual 
maturity. See id. It is only after a trial court makes a finding of unusual maturity 
that the trial court can exercise discretion in assigning diminished weight to the 
In this case the trial court did not find that Bell was unusually mature. 
Rather, the trial court stated that "there was not evidence of record that [Bell] was 
abused, neglected or not provided with a normal, healthy environment and 
supported by loving parents." Thus, although there was no evidence of abuse or 
neglect, there was likewise no finding by the trial court of "unusual maturity." The 
only finding the trial court made on this mitigator was that Bell's childhood was 13 
13Page 1415
normal. Moreover, to the extent that Bell displayed positive characteristics in that 
he was active in church, did well in school, and maintained steady jobs, we note 
that these characteristics tend to reflect the lifestyle of a normal, healthy seventeen-year-
old, rather than the unusual lifestyle of a teenager "old in the ways of the 
world." Shellito v. State, 701 So. 2d 837, 843 (Fla. 1997) (assigning little weight to 
the statutory age mitigator and relying on evidence of the eighteen-year-old 
defendant's extensive crime record, which started at age thirteen, involved twenty-two 
arrests, thirty separate crimes, and eight felony convictions, to find that the 
defendant was, "[ a] lthough young in years. . . old in the ways of the world"). 
Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court abused its discretion in assigning little 
weight to this mitigator. 
In its sentencing order, the trial court found that the State had proven the 
avoid arrest aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt. On appeal, Bell contends that 
avoiding arrest was not his dominant motive in killing Richards because his motive 
for killing Richards was his anger over Richards' sexual harassment of Maestas and 
Richards' assault on her when she rebuffed his sexual advances. 
This Court has held that in order "[ t] o establish the avoid arrest aggravating 
factor where the victim is not a law enforcement officer, the State must show 14 
14Page 1516
beyond a reasonable doubt that the sole or dominant motive for the murder was the 
elimination of a witness." Connor v. State, 801 So. 2d 598, 610 (Fla. 2001), cert. 
denied, 122 S. Ct. 2308 (2002); see also Alston v. State, 723 So. 2d 148, 160 (Fla. 
1998). "Mere speculation on the part of the state that witness elimination was the 
dominant motive behind a murder cannot support the avoid arrest aggravator. 
Likewise, the mere fact that the victim knew and could identify defendant, without 
more, is insufficient to prove this aggravator." Looney v. State, 803 So. 2d 656, 
676 (Fla. 2001) (citation omitted), cert. denied, 122 S. Ct. 2678 (2002); see also 
Consalvo v. State, 697 So. 2d 805, 819 (Fla. 1996). 
The State contends that the record evidence establishes that Bell's sole or 
dominant motive for murdering Richards was to avoid arrest. In particular, the 
State argues that by the nature or manner of the killing itself, Bell's dominant motive 
was eradicating signs of the assault and torture to which he had subjected Richards. 
Our review of the record, however, indicates that there is insufficient 
evidence to support the trial court's conclusion that the State proved the avoid 
arrest aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt. Although the State's theory regarding 
Richards' murder is possible, it is equally plausible that Bell's motive for killing 
Richards was premised upon Bell's anger at Richards because of his attack on 
Maestas. Moreover, as Bell contends, the two cases relied upon by the trial court, 15 
15Page 1617
Hall v. State, 614 So. 2d 473 (Fla. 1993), and Preston v. State, 607 So. 2d 404 
(Fla. 1992), are distinguishable because in those cases, no other reasonable motive 
could be inferred from the evidence. See Hall, 614 So. 2d at 477 (" Here, the 
evidence leaves no reasonable inference except that Hall and Ruffin killed the victim 
to eliminate the only witness . . . ."); Preston, 607 So. 2d at 409 (" The only 
reasonable inference to be drawn from the facts of this case is that Preston 
kidnapped Walker from the store and transported her to a more remote location in 
order to eliminate the sole witness to the crime."). Accordingly, we determine that 
the trial court's finding of the avoid arrest aggravator was error. 
Although not argued by Bell as a separate point on appeal, this Court has an 
independent duty to review the proportionality of Bell's death sentence as 
compared to other cases where the Court has affirmed death sentences. See 
Jennings v. State, 718 So. 2d 144, 154 (Fla. 1998). In Urbin v. State, 714 So. 2d 
411, 416-17 (Fla. 1998), we summarized the scope and obligation of our death 
penalty review: 
In performing a proportionality review, a reviewing court must 
never lose sight of the fact that the death penalty has long been 
reserved for only the most aggravated and least mitigated of 
first-degree murders. State v. Dixon, 283 So. 2d 1, 7 (Fla. 1973). See 
also Jones v. State, 705 So. 2d 1364, 1366 (Fla. 1998) (reasoning that 16 
16Page 1718
"[ t] he people of Florida have designated the death penalty as an 
appropriate sanction for certain crimes, and in order to ensure its 
continued viability under our state and federal constitutions 'the 
Legislature has chosen to reserve its application to only the most 
aggravated and unmitigated of [the] most serious crimes. '") (footnote 
omitted). Proportionality review "requires a discrete analysis of the facts," 

Terry v. State, 668 So. 2d 954, 965 (Fla. 1996), entailing a qualitative 
review by this Court of the underlying basis for each aggravator and 
mitigator rather than a quantitative analysis. We underscored this 
imperative in Tillman v. State, 591 So. 2d 167 (Fla. 1991): 

We have described the "proportionality review" 
conducted by this Court as follows: 

Because death is a unique punishment, it is 
necessary in each case to engage in a 
thoughtful, deliberate proportionality review 
to consider the totality of circumstances in a 
case, and to compare it with other capital 
cases. It is not a comparison between the 
number of aggravating and mitigating 

Porter v. State, 564 So. 2d 1060, 1064 (Fla. 1990). The 
requirement that death be administered proportionately 
has a variety of sources in Florida law, including the 
Florida Constitution's express prohibition against unusual 
punishments. Art. I, § 17, Fla. Const. It clearly is 
"unusual" to impose death based on facts similar to those 
in cases in which death previously was deemed improper. 
Id. Moreover, proportionality review in death cases rests 
at least in part on the recognition that death is a uniquely 
irrevocable penalty, requiring a more intensive level of 
judicial scrutiny or process than would lesser penalties. 
Art. I, § 9, Fla. Const.; Porter. 17 
17Page 1819
. . . Thus, proportionality review is a unique and highly 
serious function of this Court, the purpose of which is to 
foster uniformity in death-penalty law. 

Id. at 169 (alterations in original) (citations and footnote omitted). 
As we have repeatedly explained, "[ a] proportionality review involves 
consideration of the totality of the circumstances of a case and comparison of that 
case with other death penalty cases." Snipes v. State, 733 So. 2d 1000, 1007 (Fla. 
1999) (emphasis added). As in Snipes, another case involving the death penalty 
imposed on a seventeen-year-old, when we compare the totality of the 
circumstances of this case to other similar cases, we conclude that a sentence of 
death is inappropriate. 
We acknowledge the multiple aggravators in this case; however, we note that 
we have stricken the avoid arrest aggravator. Further, although we acknowledge 
that CCP and HAC have been established because of the length of time that the 
actual murder took to accomplish, we conclude that the mitigation in this case is 
substantial--mindful in particular that Bell was seventeen years of age at the time of 
the crime, which is as close as one can be in Florida to the age at which the death 
penalty is constitutionally barred. In addition, we also note the mitigating 
circumstance found by the trial judge of the disparate treatment of the 
codefendants. Indeed, in conjunction with the great weight given to the age 18 
18Page 1920
mitigator, we find it significant that all of the defendants involved were teenagers 
attempting to confront a decidedly adult situation. 
Of particular note is the life sentence given to Bell's girlfriend Maestas. 
Maestas appears to have been not only the instigator behind the series of events 
that culminated in the murder but also appears to be equally culpable for the murder 
itself. Indeed, it was Maestas, who was living on her own after being "kicked out" 
of her parents' home, who initially called Bell to complain of Richards' improper 
sexual advances. That phone call by Maestas resulted in Bell actually seeing the 
bruises on Maestas's back made by Richards. The next night it was Maestas who 
paged Bell to come to the apartment to help them after Richards asked both 
Maestas and her friend Lincks to sleep in his bed. 
Bell then confronted Richards about his behavior. Although it was Bell who 
placed the victim in a choke hold, it was Maestas who first hit Richards with the 
baseball bat. It is apparent that Maestas was involved from the beginning to the 
end, including having purchased the chain, rope, and lock with Bell and 
participating with Bell throughout the crime. Moreover, this version of the events 
comes solely from Maestas and Lincks, who would have obvious reasons to 
discount their culpability. 19 
19Page 2021
Yet we do not base our conclusion regarding proportionality solely on the 
disparate treatment of the codefendants. In evaluating the totality of circumstances 
we begin with the age mitigator. With regard to the age mitigator, as we have 
explained above, the trial court abused its discretion in affording Bell's age of 
seventeen only little weight. Without a finding of unusual maturity, this statutory 
mitigator should have been given great weight. In addition, we point to the 
following additional mitigators found by the trial court: disparate treatment of 
codefendants Lincks and Maestas; Bell was a good student; Bell was a model 
prisoner while awaiting trial; Bell had a good family support system; Bell was active 
in church; Bell was gainfully employed for various periods of time, and had the 
potential to finish high school and further his education; and Bell had a very 
supportive extended church family. 
In any event, while our proportionality review involves a comparison with 
other similar cases where the death penalty has been imposed, Bell's age and the 
unique circumstances of Bell's background make a comparison with our cases 
more difficult. The only other cases where the death penalty has been upheld for 
seventeen-year-olds are Bonifay v. State, 680 So. 2d 413, 414 (Fla. 1996), and 
LeCroy v. State, 533 So. 2d 750, 758 (Fla. 1988). We do not find the totality of 
the circumstances of this case similar to either of those cases. 20 
20Page 2122
In Bonifay, the seventeen-year-old defendant was convicted of first-degree 
murder, armed robbery, and grand theft. The trial court found three aggravating 
circumstances: (1) the capital felony was committed while Bonifay was engaged in 
a robbery; (2) the capital felony was committed for pecuniary gain; and (3) the 
capital felony was committed in a cold, calculated, and premeditated manner 
without any pretense of moral or legal justification. See 680 So. 2d at 415 n. 1. The 
trial court found the following statutory mitigators: (1) Bonifay had no significant 
history of prior criminal activity (very little weight), and (2) Bonifay's age of 
seventeen at the time of the crime (some weight). See id. at 415 n. 2. In addition, 
the court found several nonstatutory mitigating circumstances including: (1) 
Bonifay experienced a less-than-ideal family background (some weight); (2) 
Bonifay exhibited good behavior while incarcerated (little weight); (3) Bonifay had a 
potential for rehabilitation (some weight); and (4) Bonifay was remorseful about the 
death of the victim (some weight). See id. However, as we explained in Snipes, 
"the defendant in Bonifay had admitted involvement in several prior crimes, one of 
which was a prior burglary in which someone was stabbed several months prior to 
the murder. Further, not only was the defendant in Bonifay hired to commit the 
murder; when the murder actually occurred, Bonifay callously killed the wrong 
person." 733 So. 2d at 1008. 21 
21Page 2223
Likewise, in LeCroy, 533 So. 2d at 755, the seventeen-year-old defendant 
was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of robbery 
with a firearm. He appealed a sentence of death on one count of first-degree 
murder. The judge found three aggravating factors: (1) previous conviction of 
another capital felony or of a felony involving the use or threat of violence to the 
person; (2) capital felony committed while the appellant was engaged in the 
commission of robbery with a firearm; and (3) capital felony committed for the 
purpose of avoiding or preventing a lawful arrest. See id. at 755. In mitigation, the 
judge found that (1) the appellant had no significant history of prior criminal 
activity; and (2) the appellant was seventeen years of age at the time of the murder. 
See id. 
In this case, we have a seventeen-year-old who committed a heinous and 
atrocious crime; however, that is where the similarity with either Bonifay or LeCroy 
ends. Neither Bonifay nor LeCroy involved the disparate treatment of the 
codefendants as a mitigator. Also absent from Bonifay and LeCroy is the evidence 
of substantial mitigation in the form of the positive attributes Bell exhibited up until 
this particular murder. We consider the evidence that Bell was an usher at his 
church, vice president of the youth district association, a high school senior whose 
plan after graduation was to enter the Air Force, and that he attended school 22 
22Page 2324
regularly and maintained several jobs, which contributed to the family's income to 
be in his favor rather than work against him. Common sense dictates that Bell's 
positive attributes should make it less likely that we would uphold the imposition of 
the death penalty on this seventeen-year-old. Therefore, we conclude that the 
mitigation in this case is more compelling than in either LeCroy or Bonifay. 
If anything we find this case more similar to Snipes, 733 So. 2d at 1007-08, 

where we vacated the death sentence of a seventeen-year-old, and to Cooper v. 
State, 739 So. 2d 82 (Fla. 1999), where we reduced the death sentence of an 
eighteen-year-old to life. See id. at 85 (vacating death sentence where three 
aggravators were weighed against substantial mitigation including brain damage and 
youth). In this case, we conclude that the statutory mitigator that Bell was 
seventeen years of age is an extremely significant factor that, together with the other 
mitigation, renders the death penalty disproportionate. 
Because we conclude that Bell's sentence of death should be reduced to life, 
we deem it unnecessary in this case to address the constitutionality of the death 
penalty as applied to offenders under the age of eighteen (issue 3) and the 
constitutionality of Florida's death penalty scheme (issue 5). Accordingly, we 
affirm Bell's convictions but reduce Bell's sentence to life imprisonment without the 
possibility of parole. 23 
23Page 2425
It is so ordered. 
ANSTEAD, C. J., and PARIENTE and QUINCE, JJ., concur. 
PARIENTE, J., concurs with an opinion, in which ANSTEAD, C. J., concurs. 
SHAW, J., concurs in result only. 
HARDING, Senior Justice, concurs in part and dissents in part with an opinion, in 
which WELLS and LEWIS, JJ., concur. 


PARIENTE, J., concurring. 
I concur in affirming Bell's conviction and I concur in reducing the sentence 
of death to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for this seventeen-year-
old. I would, however, hold that the imposition of the death penalty upon 
Bell--who was a juvenile at the time of the offense--is not only disproportionate in 
this case, but is also unconstitutional as applied to seventeen-year-olds. 
This case involves a brutal, senseless crime committed by a high school 
senior with an above-average academic record, an above-average school attendance 
record and what appears from the record before us to have been a normal healthy 
environment supported by loving parents. There is no evidence that Bell was either 
physically or emotionally abused, or neglected. His parents and grandparents were 
active in their local church; indeed, his grandfather was a minister and his father was 
a youth pastor. Bell himself was active in his church, serving as an usher and vice 24 
24Page 2526
president of the youth district association. In my view, these factors should not be 
held against him; instead, these factors should weigh in Bell's favor when deciding 
whether we can or should uphold the imposition of the death penalty. 
Perhaps nothing ever explains how someone this young and with this type of 
rather exemplary background can commit as heinous and as wicked an act as that 
which occurred in this case, and there is no mental health testimony to help us to 
understand it. We know that many juveniles who commit crimes go on to live 
productive lives. Bell's crime will not allow for that possibility because he will 
spend the rest of his life in prison, and I agree with that outcome. Perhaps one day 
Bell will explain to all of us what went wrong so we can help prevent this type of 
extreme violence from being committed by others his age. Cf. Nelson v. State, 748 
So. 2d 237, 246-47 (Fla. 1999) (Pariente, J., specially concurring) (concurring in 
upholding the death penalty but noting that although "an understanding of what 
went wrong in this eighteen-year-old's life might not have saved Nelson from the 
imposition of the death penalty, it could provide valuable insight into how, through 
early intervention and prevention efforts, the outcome might be altered for other 
children who have been neglected and abused--before it is too late"). 
We are faced with an unusual case; a case so unusual that I am unable in 
good conscience to compare it to other cases where the death penalty has been 25 
25Page 2627
imposed on adults. Moreover, because the death penalty has been imposed so 
rarely on seventeen-year-olds, I can find no basis to properly perform our 
constitutionally mandated proportionality review other than to note--as the plurality 
opinion has done--that this case is significantly different from the two other cases 
involving seventeen-year-olds in which we have upheld the death penalty. 
My only disagreement with the plurality opinion is that, rather than decide this 

case solely on proportionality, I would also recede from LeCroy v. State, 533 So. 
2d 750 (Fla. 1988), in light of this State's more recent precedent in which we have 
concluded that the death penalty is unconstitutional as applied to fifteen-and 
sixteen-year-olds. In LeCroy, this Court held "that there is no constitutional bar to 
the imposition of the death penalty on defendants who are seventeen years of age at 
the time of the commission of the offense." Id. at 758. However, based upon the 
Court's subsequent decisions and analysis in Brennan v. State, 754 So. 2d 1, 5-6 
(Fla. 1999), and Allen v. State, 636 So. 2d 494, 497 (Fla. 1994), I conclude that the 
imposition of the death penalty on a seventeen-year-old also constitutes cruel or 
unusual punishment and that at this time the constitutional line should be drawn at 
the age of majority, eighteen. 
In Brennan, this Court held that "the imposition of the death sentence on [the 
defendant], for a crime committed when he was sixteen years of age, constitutes 26 
26Page 2728
5. I note that on November 5, 2002, the voters approved an amendment to 
the Florida Constitution to change the language of Article I, Section 17 from "cruel 
or unusual" to "cruel and unusual." The effect of that change in language on any 
future decisions regarding the death penalty is an issue that is clearly not before us 
at this time. 


cruel or unusual punishment in violation of article I, section 17 of the Florida 
Constitution." 5 754 So. 2d at 5-6. In reaching this conclusion, the Court was 
guided by its decision in Allen, in which the Court found the death penalty to be 
unconstitutional if imposed upon one who was under the age of sixteen at the time 
of the crime. See Brennan, 754 So. 2d at 6. The Court's reasoning in Allen was as 
[M] ore than half a century has elapsed since Florida last executed one 
who was less than sixteen years of age at the time of committing an 
offense. In the intervening years, only two death penalties have been 
imposed on such persons, and both of these later were overturned. 
There may be a variety of reasons for this scarcity of death
penalties imposed on persons less than sixteen years of age. There 
may be public sentiment against death penalties in these cases, or 
prosecutors may simply be convinced that juries would not 
recommend death or the judge would not impose it. We need not 
conduct a straw poll on this question, in any event. Whatever the 
reasons, the relevant fact we must confront is that death almost never 
is imposed on defendants of Allen's age. 
In sum, the death penalty is either cruel or unusual if imposed 
upon one who was under the age of sixteen when committing the 
crime; and death thus is prohibited by article I, section 17 of the 
Florida Constitution. Tillman v. State, 591 So. 2d 167, 169 n. 2 
(Fla. 1991). We cannot countenance a rule that would result in some 
young juveniles being executed while the vast majority of others are 
not, even where the crimes are similar. Art. I, Sec. 17, Fla. Const. 27 
27Page 2829
Brennan, 754 So. 2d at 6 (quoting Allen, 636 So. 2d at 497) (alterations in original). 
The Court then continued: 
In reaching our decision in Allen, we relied on article I, section 
17 of the Florida Constitution, and not on either the Eighth 
Amendment of the United States Constitution or the United States 
Supreme Court's decision in Thompson v. Oklahoma, 487 U. S. 815, 
838, 108 S. Ct. 2687, 101 L. Ed. 2d 702 (1988), which held that 
execution of a defendant who was fifteen at the time of the crime was 
prohibited by the Eighth Amendment of the United States 
Brennan asserts that our reasoning in Allen compels the same 
result here. We agree. In this case, the defendant presented the trial 
court with unrefuted data that at least since 1972, more than a quarter 
of a century ago, no individual under the age of seventeen at the time 
of the crime has been executed in Florida. In fact, our research 
reveals that the last reported case where the death penalty was 
imposed and carried out on a sixteen-year-old defendant was Clay v. 
State, 143 Fla. 204, 196 So. 462 (1940), over fifty-five years ago. 
Since 1972, the death penalty has been imposed on only four 
defendants, other than Brennan, who were sixteen at the time of the 
crime. For each of the three defendants whose appeals have already 
been decided, the death sentence was vacated. See Farina v. State, 
680 So. 2d 392, 398-99 (Fla. 1996); Morgan v. State, 639 So. 2d 6, 8 
(Fla. 1994); Brown v. State, 367 So. 2d 616, 625 (Fla. 1979). This case 
is virtually identical to Allen both because of the infrequency of the 
imposition of the death penalty on juveniles age sixteen at the time of 
the crime and because, since 1972, each death sentence imposed on a 
defendant who was sixteen at the time of the crime has been 
overturned by this Court. Thus, we agree that our decision in Allen 
interpreting the Florida Constitution compels the finding that the death 
penalty is cruel or unusual if imposed on a defendant under the age of 
seventeen. 28 
28Page 2930
6. See LeCroy v. State, 533 So. 2d 750 (Fla. 1988); Bonifay v. State, 680 
So. 2d 413 (Fla. 1996). 

7. The death sentence of a second seventeen-year-old, Nathan Ramirez, was 
vacated and remanded for a new trial because of a guilt-phase issue and thus we 
did not address the death sentence. See Ramirez v. State, 739 So. 2d 568 (Fla. 
1999). There is one additional case in which a notice of appeal has been filed but 
no briefs have been filed. See St. Clair v. State, No. SC02-149 (Fla. notice of 
appeal filed Jan. 22, 2002). 


Brennan, 754 So. 2d at 7 (footnotes omitted). Thus, in Brennan, the Court 
determined that the case demonstrated "the dilemma posed by Allen: that death is 
almost never imposed on defendants who are Brennan's age and when the death 
sentence has been imposed, the death sentence has been subsequently vacated." 
Brennan, 754 So. 2d at 11. 
In the case of seventeen-year-olds, for more than a quarter of a century no 

person who was under the age of eighteen at the time of the crime has been 
executed in Florida. During that same time period, although there have been fifteen 
persons sentenced to death for crimes that they committed when they were 
seventeen years old, only two have survived appellate review. 6 Indeed, in the 
fourteen years since LeCroy, Bonifay is the only death penalty case in which this 
Court has upheld the death penalty as applied to a seventeen-year-old. 7 
Considering the infrequency in which the death penalty has been imposed on 29 
29Page 3031
minors and upheld in this State, in my view it would constitute cruel or unusual 
punishment to impose the death penalty on this seventeen-year-old. 
There is no dispute that the facts of the crime Bell committed are--to say the 
least--horrible. Nonetheless, based upon this Court's analysis in Brennan and Allen, 
I would recede from LeCroy on this issue and instead hold that the death penalty is 
unconstitutional as applied to defendants who were under the age of eighteen at the 
time of the crime. 
ANSTEAD, C. J., concurs. 
HARDING, Senior Justice, concurring in part and dissenting in part. 
I agree with the majority's decision to affirm Bell's conviction. However, I 
would follow the decisions of both the trial court and the unanimous jury and affirm 
Bell's sentence of death. I reach this conclusion because I believe the plurality 
impermissibly reweighs the age mitigator found by the trial court in this case and 
relies on a flawed proportionality analysis in reducing Bell's sentence to life 
I disagree with the plurality's conclusion that the trial court abused its 
discretion in assigning "little weight" to Bell's age at the time he committed this 
murder. As the plurality concedes, it is well established that the relative weight 30 
30Page 3132
given each mitigating factor is within the discretion of the sentencing court. See 
Elledge v. State, 706 So. 2d 1340, 1347 (Fla. 1997) (stating that the "weight 
assigned to a mitigating circumstance is within the trial court's discretion"); see also 
Ellis v. State, 622 So. 2d 991, 1001 (Fla. 1993) ("[ T] he assignment of weight [of 
age mitigator] . . . falls within the trial court's discretion."). Therefore, in order for 
Bell to be successful in his claim, he must show that "no reasonable [person] would 
take the view adopted by the trial court." Elledge, 706 So. 2d at 1347. 
Moreover, we have recently stated, "[ T] he trial court's conclusions as to the 
weight of mitigating circumstances will be sustained by this Court if the conclusions 
are supported by sufficient evidence in the record." Horst v. State, 819 So. 2d 
689, 697 (Fla. 2002) (citing Mansfield v. State, 758 So. 2d 636, 646 (Fla. 2000), 
and Ferrell v. State, 653 So. 2d 367, 371 (Fla. 1995)). Nonetheless, the plurality all 
but ignores the trial court's findings and the record evidence in this case to 
impermissibly reweigh the mitigating factor and, ultimately, leap to the conclusion 
that Bell's age should be given "great weight" and label it "an extremely significant 
factor." Plurality op. at 19, 23. 
In Urbin v. State, 714 So. 2d 411 (Fla. 1998), upon which the plurality relies, 
this Court stated: 
[I] t is the patent lack of maturity and responsible judgment that 
underlies the mitigation of young age . . . . This is especially true when 31 
31Page 3233
there is extensive evidence of parental neglect and abuse that played a 
significant role in the child's lack of maturity and responsible 

Id. at 418 (citation omitted). Contrary to Urbin, the record in this case provides 
sufficient evidence of Bell's maturity and ability to make responsible decisions in 
order for this Court to sustain the trial court's weighing of this mitigating factor. 
Bell's father testified that Bell was a "youth pastor" and usher, and that Bell 
assumed the position of "vice president of the youth district association." Bell 
"attended school regularly," had an above-average academic record, and had 
maintained several jobs while "contribut[ ing] to the family's money." Bell "loved to 
work," but quit work to focus on his school studies. In sum, Bell had a level of 
maturity that allowed him to work, make money, drive his own vehicle, and care for 
some of his own needs. Just as importantly, the record is totally devoid of any 
evidence indicating any kind of abuse or neglect or any instability in Bell's 
upbringing. On the contrary, Bell's father testified that he and Bell's mother had 
been married for twenty years, and Bell had been raised in the same location. Bell's 
grandfather also testified that Bell would attend his grandfather's church and that 
Bell "always" had a roof over his head and lived in a "nice neighborhood." 
Indeed, the circumstances of this case are unlike those cases where this 
Court has found that the trial court abused its discretion in giving "little weight" to 32 
32Page 3334
the defendant's age at the time of the crime. For example, in Ramirez v. State, 739 
So. 2d 568 (Fla. 1999), this Court reviewed the claim that the trial court abused its 
discretion in giving "little weight" to the age mitigator where the defendant was 
seventeen at the time of the murder. Id. at 581-83. This Court did find an abuse of 
discretion, but did so principally because there was "uncontroverted testimony of 
defendant's emotional, intellectual and behavioral immaturity. Id. at 582. The 
evidence in Ramirez revealed that the defendant "had the emotional, intellectual and 
behavioral maturity of a thirteen-or fourteen-year-old, and suffered from learning 
disabilities that evidenced an "organic problem in his brain," and the defendant also 
had an unrebutted history of inhaling chlorofluorocarbons. Id. at 582. There is no 
such evidence in the instant case. Cf. Horst v. State, 819 So. 689 (Fla. 2002) 
(finding trial court did not abuse its discretion in assigning age mitigator "very little 
weight" where eighteen-year-old defendant worked, owned car, performed 
adequately in school, and helped take care of younger children in family). 
Given the testimony concerning Bell's active church leadership, regular 
school attendance, ability to maintain outside work responsibilities, and the lack of 
any evidence concerning emotional, intellectual, or behavioral immaturity, I would 
find there is sufficient record evidence to support the trial court's finding that the 
mitigating factor of Bell's age should be given "little weight." As this Court stated 33 
33Page 3435
in Shellito v. State, 701 So. 2d 837 (Fla. 1997), "Because the trial judge was in the 
best position to judge [the defendant's] emotional and maturity level, on this record 
we will not second-guess his decision to . . . assign [the defendant's age] only slight 
weight." Id. at 843-44. Indeed, based on the record before us, the plurality has not 
demonstrated that "no reasonable person would take the view adopted by the trial 
The plurality's suggestion that the trial court afforded this mitigator little 
weight without explanation is without foundation. See plurality op. at 12. The trial 
court did provide an explanation as to why it afforded this mitigator little weight: 
Although Ronald Lee Bell, Jr., at the time of this crime, was two 
months shy of his eighteenth birthday, there is no evidence of record 
that he was abused, neglected or not provided with a normal, healthy 
environment and supported by loving parents. 

Sentencing Order at 14. Moreover, throughout the trial court's twenty-two page 
sentencing report, there are numerous references to the court's assessment of Bell's 
maturity and judgment. For example, the court found that "defendant Bell was 
capable of adhering to rules, regulations and laws and could successfully control 
his behavior in an educational environment"; Bell was "gainfully employed, 
provided volunteer assistance to his elderly grandparents"; "the defendant knew 
right from wrong"; and "he clearly knew right from wrong and had the capacity to 
not engage in the despicable behavior which resulted in the death of Cordell 34 
34Page 3536
8. There is no requirement that the court make a finding of unusual maturity. 

Richards." Sentencing Order at 17-20. The trial court also noted that Bell "was 
clearly the leader and dominate [sic] actor . . . and that co-defendants Maestas and 
Lincks were females who unfortunately followed in the actions and words of the 
defendant." Sentencing Order at 15-16. 
The plurality also asserts that because there was "no finding by the trial court 
of 'unusual maturity, '" the court abused its discretion in assigning little weight to the 
age mitigator in this case. Ellis, however, upon which the plurality relies in making 
this assertion, specifically states: 
Whenever a murder is committed by one who at the time was a minor, 
the mitigating factor of age must be found and weighed, but the weight 
can be diminished by other evidence showing unusual maturity. It is 
the assignment of weight that falls within the trial court's discretion is 
such cases. 

622 So. 2d 1001. In this case, the trial court did exactly what is prescribed by Ellis. 
That is, because Bell committed the murder while he was a minor, the trial court 
properly "found and weighed" the mitigating factor of age. 
Upon weighing this factor, Ellis also permits that the weight can be 
diminished by "other evidence showing 'unusual maturity. '" 8 I would submit that 
the record evidence in this case concerning Bell's active church leadership, regular 
school attendance, above-average academic performance, assumption of out-of- 35 
35Page 3637
the-home work responsibilities, and a stable and nurturing upbringing, is exactly the 
type of evidence demonstrating the maturity which Ellis contemplates. 
Just as importantly, and contrary to the conclusion reached by the plurality, 
there is nothing in Ellis- or in any other case or statute of this State- which 
necessarily requires that a trial court afford an age mitigator "great weight" or deem 
it "an extremely significant factor" where the defendant is below the age of majority, 
yet still death penalty-eligible. Accordingly, and for the reasons stated above, I 
would find that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in affording the age 
mitigating factor in this case "little weight." 
Next, despite the existence of four aggravators, the heinous nature of this 
crime which caused considerable and prolonged suffering to the victim, and the 
lack of any mental or sociological mitigation, the plurality concludes that the death 
penalty imposed by the trial court in this case is disproportionate. I disagree. 
First, the plurality erroneously relies on "the disparate treatment of the 
codefendants" as a basis for finding Bell's sentence disproportionate. There is no 
legal basis for this assertion. In Farina v. State, 801 So. 2d 44 (Fla. 2001), cert. 
denied, 122 S. Ct. 2369 (2002), this Court held that a codefendant's less severe 
sentence was "irrelevant to" a defendant's proportionality review in a capital case, 36 
36Page 3738
where the codefendant was under the age of seventeen at the time of the murders 
(thus ineligible for a death sentence) and therefore "aggravation and mitigation in 
their cases are per se incomparable." Id. at 56 (affirming death sentence of 
eighteen-year-old defendant where sixteen-year-old codefendant who fired fatal 
shot only received life sentence). 
In this case, Bell's codefendants, Kimberly Maestas and Renee Lincks, were 
only ages sixteen and fifteen, respectively, at the time this crime was committed, 
and thus, like the codefendant in Farina, also ineligible for the death penalty. 
Therefore, according to Farina, the less severe sentences received by the 
codefendants in this case are irrelevant to Bell's proportionality review because the 
aggravation and mitigation in their cases is per se incomparable, i. e., death was not 
a valid punishment option for either of the codefendants in this case. Accordingly, 
the plurality's reliance, at least in part, on the disparate treatment of the 
codefendants in reaching its conclusion that Bell's sentence is disproportionate has 
no legal basis. 
Moreover, and notwithstanding this legal bar to a finding of disparate 

treatment for purpose of a proportionality review in this case, a further defect in the 
plurality's proportionality analysis is its conclusion that Bell's sixteen-year-old 
girlfriend, Kimberly Maestas, "appears to be equally culpable for the murder." 37 
37Page 3839
9. At Wal-Mart, Bell provided the money to buy a "chain, a rope, and a 
lock" to be used for killing the victim. When Bell decided that it was time for the 
murder, Bell put the victim in a headlock, which Bell maintained until the victim was 
unconscious. Bell instructed Maestas to get a baseball bat and then Bell told 
Maestas and Lincks to hit the victim with it, which they did. Bell directed the use 
of a blanket to wrap up the victim and the use of rope to tie up the victim. 
Bell used his car to transport the victim to the remote scene of his death. 
Bell backed his car to the apartment door in order to put the victim in the trunk, and 
Bell and Lincks carried the victim to the trunk and stuffed him in it. Bell determined 
the wooded location where the victim would be taken and then drove the victim 
there in the trunk of his (Bell's) car. In the woods, when the victim begged Bell, 
"Please don't kill me" and moaned and mumbled, Bell told Maestas to hit the victim 
with the baseball bat. Bell incited Maestas to action by reminding her, "Who hurt 
you?" Bell told Maestas that she was not hitting the victim hard enough with the 
bat, then Bell told Maestas to give the bat to Lincks, and after Lincks hit the victim 
several times, Bell directed that the bat be given to him, and Bell hit the victim hard 
a number of times, at one point referring to himself as "Babe Ruth" before striking 
the victim with the bat. Bell squirted lighter fluid "all over" the victim, including his 
head and face; the victim was still alive and groaned; the lighter fluid was then lit, 
resulting in the victim screaming. 
At Bell's insistence "to make sure he was dead," Bell, Maestas, and Lincks 
returned to the wooded location where they had left the victim beaten and in flames. 
At the wooded location, upon hearing the victim calling for help and asking "who's 
there," Bell tried to break the victim's neck. Bell drove to Target, and at about 9: 45 
a. m., Bell paid for duct tape and a meat cleaver to finish off the victim. Bell 
returned to the wooded site, and Bell slit the throat of the victim, resulting in the 
victim giving a "very small shout." Bell returned to the car and stated that he 


Plurality op. at 19. Indeed, Maestas may have, as the plurality asserts, "called Bell 
to complain of Richards' improper sexual advances" and been "involved from the 
beginning to the end." Plurality op. at 19. However, her role was relatively minor 
compared to that of Bell's, and the record is replete with instances showing Bell's 
micromanagement of the murder. 9 Bell's horrible actions included beating the 38 
38Page 3940
"didn't slit his throat deep enough," then returned again to the victim's location and 
again slit the victim's throat. Bell pawned or sold items of the victim's personal 
property (a television, violin, and perhaps a computer). Bell participated in cashing 
forged checks using the victim's bank checks. Indeed, when Bell pawned the 
victim's property, Bell successfully represented himself as age eighteen by 
presenting his driver's license with a crack over the age and representing his birth 
year as 1980, rather than correctly as 1981. Although the plurality questions the credibility of the codefendants' testimony 

in this case, determining the credibility of witnesses is within the province of the 
jury. See Carter v. State, 560 So. 2d 1166, 1168 (Fla. 1990) (noting that credibility 
of accomplice's version of murder is question for jury). Thus, it is the jury's duty 
to weigh the evidence and resolve any factual conflicts, and its findings will not be 
disturbed on appeal absent a clear showing of error. See Jent v. State, 408 So. 2d 
1024, 1028 (Fla. 1981). It is not within the province of this Court to pass on the 
credibility of a witness presented at trial. After hearing all of the evidence in this 
case, the jury voted unanimously twelve to zero in favor of the imposition of a 
death sentence and thus clearly chose to believe the codefendants' version of the 


victim with a baseball bat, pouring lighter fluid on the victim's face and lighting it 
while the victim was still alive and groaning, trying to break the victim's neck with 
his own hands, and slitting the victim's throat twice- on two different occasions. 
As the trial court opined, Bell "was clearly the leader and dominate [sic] actor in the 
kidnaping and murder of Cordell Richards," and it was Bell who "clearly struck the 
fatal blow with the meat cleaver." See Sentencing Order at 15-16. 
For these reasons, the plurality's attempt to distinguish LeCroy v. State, 533 
So. 2d 750 (Fla. 1988), and Bonifay v. State, 680 So. 2d 413 (Fla. 1996), on the 
basis of disparate treatment of the codefendants is without merit. The law and the 39 
39Page 4041
record both clearly establish there has been no disparate treatment in this case. 
Moreover, in LeCroy, even though the trial court found three aggravating 
circumstances in a case involving a defendant exactly the same age as Bell when he 
committed the murder and despite the trial court giving "great weight" to the age 
mitigating factor (as the plurality attempts to do in this case), this Court nonetheless 
upheld the defendant's death sentence. See LeCroy, 533 So. 2d at 758. Like the 
court in this instance, the trial court found that the evidence showed the defendant 
"understood the distinction between right and wrong and the nature and 
consequences of his actions." Id. at 755-56. It should also be noted that the 
murder in LeCroy was accomplished by gunshot and therefore did not involve the 
protracted beating, burning, and cutting of the victim- and resulting suffering- as 
did this case. 
[T] he legislature intended that youth and its potential characteristics be 
considered as a factor by the jury and the sentencing judge in 
determining whether a youthful defendant should be subject to the 
death penalty. It does not suggest an intention to draw an arbitrary 
bright line between those who are eighteen years of age and those, 
such as here, who are seventeen years of age. . . . [The sentencing 
judge's] decision was consistent with the jury's advisory 
recommendation of death which was also reached after considering 
appellant's age and potential immaturity. It appears then that the
legislature has specifically decided that some seventeen-year-olds may 
be sentenced to death and that the jury and judge in this particular case 
have decided that this appellant should be sentenced to death. 40 
40Page 4142
10. Likewise, Bonifay is indistinguishable. In Bonifay, this Court upheld the 
death sentence for a seventeen-year-old defendant where it found only three 
aggravating circumstances and gave "some weight" to the defendant's age at the 
time of the crime. See Bonifay, 680 So. 2d at 415 n. 2& 3. In Bonifay, the court 
also found nonstatutory mitigators not present in the instant case, e. g., defendant's 
less-than-ideal family background and defendant's cooperation with law 
enforcement and good behavior while incarcerated. Moreover, the court in Bonifay 
also found the defendant, like Bell, had several "positive attributes, e. g., the 
defendant was remorseful about the death of the victim, and the defendant had 
potential for rehabilitation. The plurality attempts to distinguish Bonifay on the 
grounds that the defendant in Bonifay admitted to prior criminal involvement, even 
though, unlike the instant case, the court found the statutory mitigator that the 
defendant had no significant history of prior criminal activity. In this case, Bell 
admitted to nothing. In fact, when police went to the victim's apartment on 
February 13, 1999 (ten days after the victim was murdered), the police found Bell in 
the victim's bedroom, and Bell denied knowing anything about the victim's 
whereabouts. The victim's decomposed body was not found until March 4, 1999. 
Finally, the plurality also attempts to distinguish Bonifay on the basis that Bonifay 
"callously" killed the wrong person. See plurality op. at 21. Any argument that 
Bell's actions in the protracted and torturous murder of the victim in this case was 
anything but callous would be disingenuous. 


Id. at 758. 10 
The plurality concludes its proportionality analysis by asserting similarity 
between this case and Snipes v. State, 733 So. 2d 1000 (Fla. 1999), and Cooper v. 
State, 739 So. 2d 82 (Fla. 1999). I would, however, find both of these cases 
distinguishable. In Snipes, while it is true this Court vacated a seventeen-year-old 
defendant's death sentence, it did so where there were only two aggravating 
circumstances and substantial mitigation, other than youth, related to the 41 
41Page 4243
defendant's "traumatic background." Snipes, 733 So. 2d at 1007-09. Specifically, 
in Snipes the court found the defendant 
was sexually abused for a number of years as a child, [and] he abused 
drugs and alcohol beginning at a young age . . . . He was raised in a 
dysfunctional, alcoholic family, [and] suffered childhood trauma . . . . 
He also suffers emotional stress and a personality disorder due to his 
early childhood. Importantly, Snipes voluntarily confessed to the 
crime and told others about it, he expressed remorse, and the State 
depended upon Snipes' statements to obtain a conviction against him 
and a warrant against a codefendant. Additionally, the crime was 
arranged by older individuals, and testimony reflected that Snipes was 
easily led by older persons. 

Id. at 1008. The Court also noted that, unlike the instant case, "the murder 
occurred quickly and was not committed during a robbery." Id. 
In reversing the death penalty in Snipes, this Court also relied on its decision 
in Urbin, where it found that the "defendant's age of seventeen was particularly 
compelling when coupled with the substantial impairment [e. g., drug and alcohol 
abuse, dyslexia, employment history] and family neglect [e. g., lack of a father]." 
Id. at 1008 (emphasis added). The present case includes fewer aggravators and 
none of the mental and sociological mitigation present in Snipes or Urbin; therefore, 
contrary to the plurality's assertion, Snipes is not a "similar case" upon which this 
Court should rely in its proportionality analysis. 
Likewise, Cooper, the other case upon which the plurality relies as similar to 
the instant case, is also distinguishable. See Cooper, 739 So. 2d at 86. In Cooper, 42 
42Page 4344
11. Relatives testified to the brutality Cooper suffered as a young child at the 
hands of his father. See Cooper, 739 So. 2d at 84. One of Cooper's sisters 
testified that their father was an alcoholic who frequently beat the children and on 
one occasion "rammed Cooper's head into the refrigerator." Id. Cooper's aunt 
testified that the father frequently "whipped and beat" Cooper and threatened the 
children with a gun. See id. A second sister testified that the father on one 
occasion put a gun to young Cooper's head. See id. 


the trial court found only three aggravating circumstances and also found two 
nonstatutory mitigators not present in the instant case, i. e., low intelligence 
(borderline retarded) and an abusive childhood. See id. at 84 n. 6. The court also 
found evidence of brain damage and a history of seizures which caused the 
defendant to have impaired judgment and poor impulse control. See id. at 83. The 
defendant also scored high on tests for mental illness (including both paranoia and 
schizophrenia). See id. at 86. 11 Moreover, the jury recommendation of death in 
Cooper was only by an eight-to-four vote, i. e., not unanimous like the instant case. 
The Court acknowledged Cooper to be "one of the most mitigated killings we have 
reviewed." Id. at 86. Indeed, the same cannot be said for the instant case. The
crime Bell committed is certainly one of the most aggravated and least mitigated we 
have reviewed. 
Given the impermissible reweighing of the mitigating factor of Bell's age, the 
absence of any mental or sociological mitigation similar to that found in Snipes or 
Cooper, and the four established aggravators resulting from Bell's heinous and 43 
43Page 44
wicked actions in the violent and tortured death of the victim, I would instead 
compare the totality of the circumstances of this case to that of LeCroy and 
Bonifay, where we upheld the death sentences of seventeen-year-old defendants 
with less aggravation and more mitigation than the instant case. Accordingly, I 
would find Bell's death sentence proportionate and therefore affirm Bell's sentence 
of death. 
WELLS and LEWIS, JJ., concur. 
An Appeal from the Circuit Court in and for Okaloosa County, Thomas T. 
Remington, Judge -Case No. 99-528 CFA 

Nancy A. Daniels, Public Defender, and W. C. McLain, Assistant Public Defender, 
Second Judicial Circuit, Tallahassee, Florida, 

for Appellant 
Richard E. Doran, Attorney General, and Stephen R. White, Assistant Attorney 
General, Tallahassee, Florida, 

for Appellee 44 

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