GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The pain was audible in the courtroom.
Through crime-scene photos that included the victim’s body, through revelations about a fatal plot casually conceived and carried …
GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The pain was audible in the courtroom.
Through crime-scene photos that included the victim’s body, through revelations about a fatal plot casually conceived and carried out, through blunt autopsy reports delivered with film slides and a pointer, and through detailed descriptions of his final moments on earth, inconsolable loved-ones wept tears of grief for decorated Navy Cmdr. Alphonso Mortimer Doss.
Cries were scarce for Anthony Washington, who was convicted of murder last Friday and will spend the rest of his life in prison.
A jury late on the night of Sept. 23 found Washington guilty of premeditated first-degree murder and felony burglary with assault or battery in the February 2014 death of a 44-year-old Doss at the Astoria Hotel in Orange Park.
The 6-foot-7 Washington, with buddy Ronnie Wilson II tagging along, awaited Doss in his darkened motel room and then, when Doss arrived, strangled him to death with his bare hands. Washington and Wilson tossed piles of clothes around the room, including over part of Doss’s body, to stage the scene to appear like a burglary.
Doss’s estranged wife, Yolinda Denise Doss – Washington’s lover – was waiting in a car outside as the lookout, the prosecution contended. It was Yolinda who masterminded the scheme to cash in on the commander’s $1 million life-insurance policy, which the conspirators planned to split three ways, Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda argued.
Yolinda and Alphonso Doss had been high school sweethearts in Ruleville, Miss., before getting married. Their daughter, Alexis, was 15 years old and at home on the night of the killing.
Judge John H. Skinner will set a trial date for Yolinda Doss, 47, on Monday. She, like Washington, is staring at a first-degree murder charge and life in prison. Wilson, 35, will be the last defendant to go on trial.
“His death was devastating to us, so we’re pleased at the way the trial was handled and the case was handled, and we can move on from here,” Tom Allen, father of Cmdr. Doss., told the media while holding his wife Carolyn. “We came to see justice done for our son, and we got that.”
In a trial that was widely expected to last a couple of weeks, a jury of eight women and four men required just four days of testimony and three-plus hours of deliberation to convict Washington, 31, who will be sentenced to life behind bars by Judge Skinner next week.
The prosecution chose against seeking Florida’s death penalty, saying the case didn’t meet the statutory requirements based on aggravating factors.
“Not every murder case is a death-penalty case,” de la Rionda told Clay Today. “We were limited by the statute.”
The strength of the motive evidence and the defendant’s criminal history factored into the prosecution’s decision. The state relied heavily on non-motive evidence to prove its case.
“I’m pleased the jury came back with a verdict that spoke the truth,” said de la Rionda, whom State Attorney Angela Corey appointed to prosecute George Zimmerman in 2013 for the murder of Trayvon Martin.
“This was an innocent victim murdered in a hotel. I’m pleased that the victim’s family got a step in the right direction toward closure and that they got to see what occurred in terms of sitting through the trial. But final closure will never occur until they see their son again in heaven,” he said.
Prior to closing arguments, Washington took the stand. He testified that he went to Doss’s motel room simply to warn him to stay away from Yolinda, but things got out of hand. He painted Cmdr. Doss as an abusive alcoholic who was drunk on the night of the attack.
“He was climbing on the bed, and he goes to lunge at me and attack me, saying, ‘I hate you’ or ‘I’m going to kill you,’” Washington said. “As he’s lunging, I catch him in mid-air (by his throat). When I catch him in mid-air, he hits me with a bottle. I slap the bottle out of his hand. I throw him. When I throw him, he lands awkwardly on his side with his back hitting the wall.”
Washington also testified he didn’t know that Yolinda was waiting outside the motel, but records of cellphone signals and text-messages, as well as surveillance videos, presented in court contradicted his account of the evening.
Also, no bottle was found in the room. The jury didn’t buy Washington’s claim of self-defense.
“What person claims self-defense and just takes off [from the scene]?” de la Rionda argued in his closing. “He keeps changing his story.”
Before trial, Washington told investigators he took a breathing device from Doss’s room “out of spite” because Doss had thrown it at him during the confrontation. He told police that he left Doss on the motel floor, choking for breath, according to documents.
“Anthony Washington is not guilty,” lead defense attorney Tom Fallis argued. “That’s not because I say so. … He is not guilty. The motive [of Washington going to the hotel] was to protect people he cared for.”
The defense argued that Doss’s death was accidental and the result of a “karate chop” to his throat by Washington, who never intended to kill the commander.
Doss joined the Navy after high school in 1987. He completed two combat deployments in the Middle East, including one with the USS Forrestal, based in Mayport, in 1991. He also completed a pair of secret overseas missions for the Navy, and he was part of a team that interviewed Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, a chief planner of the 9/11 attacks, at Guantanamo Bay in 2006.
Doss was charged with driving under the influence in 2012, his Naval career was ending, and he was seeking treatment for addiction, depression and post traumatic stress disorder.
“He was a great son, and he loved Alexis so much,” Allen said of Cmdr. Doss. “He was looking forward to spending more time with her.”
It took several months for police to make any arrests in the case. In the meantime, Yolinda attended Doss’s funeral as a grieving widow, and it was she who informed his father over the phone that Alphonso Doss’s death was being investigated as a homicide.
Email Christiaan DeFranco at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cdefranco.