He is the grinning boy in the video flashed around the world, the one police say clubbed a homeless man with a baseball bat.
He is 17, his days now spent writing to an ex-girlfriend from the Broward County Jail:
... All I do is think about you, but the thing is, is that I don't think I'll ever get out. ... Even though I didn't do it I was still there, and that makes me an accesorie. Which is just as bad in everyones eyes. That's why I think that you should just tell everyone to forget about me... .
Tom Daugherty is the youngest of the three teens charged with beating three homeless men for sport, killing an Army veteran who made his home on the streets of Fort Lauderdale's arts district.
The Jan. 12 attacks stunned a community, but court records and interviews show these teens had long been troubled.
Daugherty dropped out of high school, fought with his father, shuttled between homes in South Florida and Tennessee, and was diagnosed with a "mental health issue" just before the crime, according to friends and Daugherty's attorney.
Billy Ammons, 18, had been the target of at least 10 police complaints -- some filed by his mother, who told police she could not control her defiant son.
Brian Hooks, 18, bragged openly about beating up homeless people, friends later told investigators.
At least six friends told investigators that some or all of the teens had "beat up bums" before Jan. 12. That night, friends told police, the teens were high on liquor and the anti-anxiety drug Xanax.
"I told them, `One time, you're going to get busted,'" friend Johnny Aiello, 17, said in an interview with the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. "I knew they were going to take it too far."
Joey Griffith was with them the night they did, police said. Griffith, now the prosecution's key witness, described the night of Norris Gaynor's murder in an interview with the Sun-Sentinel.
"I thought we were just going down for a ride on the beach," said Griffith, 16.
Then, he said, Hooks and Daugherty started talking about beating up a homeless person.
"I was shocked," Griffith said. "I should have just punched all of them and stopped them from doing it."
Instead, Griffith said, he stayed in Ammons' black Chevy Blazer during two of the beatings and then went home after they drove back to Ammons' house. Scared, he said he went straight to sleep.
After security camera footage of the beatings hit the news, more than 100 people came forward -- friends, co-workers, teachers, assistant principals and an athletic director.
They tried to reconcile the violent images with the teenagers they thought they knew: working-class kids who fused their friendship in South Florida's outdoors, fishing for tarpon and wahoo in the ocean and Intracoastal, wakeboarding in west Broward canals, playing paintball and partying.
"We're not a bunch of gangbangers," said Aiello, whose friendship with Hooks brought the trio together. "We've got the life that most kids would want."
All three teens remain in the Broward County Jail, awaiting trial on murder charges. Their parents declined to comment for this story. Some said it was too painful to talk. Others said they had no answers to give.
Despite accusations from the NAACP and the family of Norris Gaynor that the beatings were racially motivated -- two victims were black, one Hispanic -- Aiello says that's not true.
"It's not a racism factor like everyone's saying," he said. "It's not their fault that all the bums on the benches were black."
All three young men grew up in neighborhoods where driveways are lined with work trucks and vans. The accused trio and Aiello all had "toys" -- boats, ATVs, paintball guns -- and worked hard to earn them, Aiello said.
"I paid for my four-wheelers and stuff with my own time and money," he said. "Why can't the bums get a job? Why are they on the street asking people for a dollar? I do have a lack of sympathy for them. There's some reason you're a bum and why don't you fix it?"
Aiello's mother shared his sentiment.
"I can understand why people get angry," Hull said. "I'm working for a living. I'm trying to make ends meet, why can't you do the same?" Still, she added, beating the homeless is "not at all justifiable."
Still unexplained is how a group of young people, who heard their friends were beating up homeless people, didn't go to police until after the killing.
McDavitt, Daugherty's friend, told police he warned his friend to stop during winter break. "I was like, `Dude, it's not right. ... It's not the way to go, and you need to quit doing it.'"
Aiello said he wouldn't participate in the attacks, even though his friends asked. "I'm not the only one, I'm sure, that's said, `I'm not down with that and I'm not going.'"
As he speaks, Aiello switches from anger toward his friends' alleged actions to exasperation for those who try to understand how this could happen.
"There's no explanation, no reason `why,' no anything," he said. "They beat up some bums."
Staff Writers Brian Haas, Jon Burstein, Paula McMahon and Bill Hirschman contributed to this report.
Staff Writer Tonya Alanez can be reached at 954-356-4542 or email@example.com.
THE THREE VICTIMS
Norris Gaynor, 45, was beaten to death while sleeping on a bench in Esplanade Park in downtown Fort Lauderdale. Those who knew him say he critiqued the area's skyscrapers, loved the free downtown jazz and was sad when the big clock stopped at the nearby Museum of Discovery and Science.
"If we started to be less comfortable categorizing people, maybe that will go toward bringing back the humanity that some of us seem to be missing," said his sister, Simone Manning-Moon, 44, of Stone Mountain, Ga.
Jacques Pierre, 58, was the first beating victim that night. A surveillance camera captured the attack at Florida Atlantic University as he tried to fend off two teens striking him with baseball bats. After he was released from the hospital, investigators placed him in an assisted-living center.
Raymond Perez, 50, the third to be attacked, had been sleeping at the Church by the Sea. He told investigators his assailants laughed as they beat him, but he said he forgives them. Perez was later briefly reunited by phone with New York relatives who had searched for him for 14 years.
Police say Thomas "Tom" Daugherty was the grinning boy videotaped beating Jacques Pierre in front of Florida Atlantic University in downtown Fort Lauderdale. They say Daugherty then delivered the blows that killed Norris Gaynor as he slept on a park bench at nearby Esplanade Park.
Their friendship began in clubs at Tropical Elementary. After school, they cheered up the elderly in nursing homes and rallied against drugs, tobacco and alcohol with the Just Say No club.
The image of a teen beating homeless people doesn't mesh with the friend Lexie Dailey has known since third grade.
"Tom was never the type of person who wanted to get into a fight," she said. "If someone would say something to him, he would just leave it."
Like Hooks, Daugherty grew up in Plantation Isles, a family-oriented suburb where streets are backed by canals and American flags fly. At Tropical Elementary and Seminole Middle schools, he was known as a shy follower who nonetheless, with his goofy sense of humor, made friends easily.
Dailey and other friends remember a boy who earned B's and C's, excelled at track and wore hip-hop gear. After school, he'd ride a bus to downtown Fort Lauderdale and skateboard on the steps of the public library.
Wakeboarding was his passion. He spent hours practicing his moves in Quiet Waters Park in Deerfield Beach and down the New River Canal in Plantation.
His parents divorced before he turned 4. In court documents his father filed to obtain custody, he accused Daugherty's mother of "violent tendencies" and using drugs "in an excessive and compulsive manner."
When Daugherty was 7, his parents agreed his father, Thomas, should have full custody. As Daugherty grew older, friends said, he and his father often quarreled.
"His dad and him would fight about everything," Dailey said.
In the summer before ninth grade, Daugherty went to live with his mother, Bridget, in the small town of Sparta, Tenn. Friends say he had a hard time there, living in a small house with five other people -- his mother, two aunts, an uncle and cousin. It marked the beginning of a turbulent 16 months of packing and unpacking between two states, Dailey said.
One friend, McDavitt, told police that Daugherty started using methamphetamines in Tennessee, records show.
By the time he returned to Florida in late 2005, "he wasn't shy, quiet Tommy anymore," Dailey said. "He was moody. He started hanging out with people he started getting in trouble with."
He gave up on school, quitting in ninth grade. He hung out with Brian Hooks, who lived blocks away and already had graduated.
Just before the beatings, Daugherty was diagnosed with a "mental health issue," said his attorney, Michael Gottlieb, who would not elaborate. Gottlieb said drugs and alcohol also may have contributed to the crime.
Now in jail, Daugherty worries that he could face decades in prison. Will his parents even be alive when he gets out? Should he ask his ex-girlfriend (she did not want to be identified in this article) to wait for him? In another letter, he writes to her:
Its so hard now, I try hard as hell not to cry. ... What wrys me the most is life or even 20 to 40 years. ... I pray every day for a second chance.
The night of the beatings, police say, William "Billy" Ammons drove the group around downtown Fort Lauderdale in his 1997 black Chevy Blazer, stereo blasting. Authorities say Ammons pelted Norris Gaynor with paintballs as he lay dying.
The calls to police began when Billy Ammons was 12, each complaint more serious than the one before. Yet he was seldom punished.
April 2000: Reportee complains that her son is out of control.
October 2002: Made contact with Dianne Ammons who stated her son did not come home last night.
November 2004: [Victims] both positively identified [Billy Ammons] as the person who had knocked them off their go-peds and helped steal [a] go-ped.
November 2005: [Elderly neighbor] stated that approx. 30 minutes prior, 2 [white male] teenagers attacked him.
As police investigated the 2004 scooter theft, Ammons cursed them out and swung at an officer, reports show. Police arrested him on a robbery charge, but dropped the case when the victims didn't cooperate, police said.
The following year, neighbor Harold Furber, 73, told police Ammons and other boys repeatedly harassed him. Police reports show that in July, someone threw firecrackers at Furber's front door. In October, someone snaked a garden hose into the house and flooded it. In November, two young men jumped him, smearing axle grease in his eyes. A witness reported that two teens ran into Ammons' house as the retiree cried out for help.
Police made no arrests. They said they did not have enough evidence and Furber was uncooperative. "They just got worse and worse and worse," Furber said. "They were never disciplined. They don't have a damn thing to do but get in trouble."
Griffith, the friend who grew up two blocks from Ammons, said Ammons' family life was tense. "He wasn't a troublemaker," he said. "He'd just fight a lot with his parents. He would get tired of it and just get mad."
Ammons' parents separated when he was 6. His father, Bert Ammons, 50, a self-employed yacht captain, had been arrested three times, accused of carrying crack pipes and stealing. He pleaded no contest in 1994 to possession of cocaine and drug paraphernalia and was sentenced to drug treatment and three years' probation, records show. He was also sentenced to three months in federal prison in 2001 for illegally smuggling refrigerant chemicals into the country.
Ammons stayed with his mother, Dianne Franklin, an office administrator for a Fort Lauderdale yacht broker. As he entered adolescence, fights with his mother brought police to their home in River Oaks, a working-class neighborhood in southwest Fort Lauderdale.
Aiello grew up four blocks away. He called Ammons a "crazy little head-banger" who liked the thrill of skateboarding off a ramp on the roof of his house. A slightly built kid with closely shorn dark hair, acne and a swagger, Ammons sporadically attended Stranahan High, dropping out in 2004, his freshman year. He transferred to Whiddon-Rogers Education Center, an alternative school, and, Aiello said, later earned his GED.
Ammons occasionally worked, laying tile or painting murals. He had a steady girlfriend who accompanied him to his grandmother's Port St. Lucie home for Thanksgiving.
"He was well-behaved, he helped me in the kitchen. He whipped cream for me, and potatoes," said his grandmother, Mary Coronato. "He was very helpful. He didn't drink."
Aiello had recently persuaded Ammons to join him in a marine mechanics class at McFatter Technical Center, and taught him how to install TVs into car seat headrests.
It was his way of reaching out to the friend who was drifting away.
"Me and Brian, about six months ago, we got into a confrontation," Aiello explained. "[Billy and Brian] started doing dumb s---. I didn't want to be part of that. They partied too hard. Every kid parties, but they were doing it too much."
Ammons was booked into jail five days after the murder, on Jan. 17. His first day of class at McFatter would have been the next day.
Police say security camera footage shows Brian Hooks swinging a bat at Jacques Pierre. Later that night, police say, Hooks watched as Daugherty killed Norris Gaynor.
Whap ... whap ... whap ...
Police followed the sound to a parked white pickup and Brian Hooks.
It was summer 2005, just before midnight, and Hooks told Davie police he had been shooting paintballs at a trash bin in the parking lot next to the restaurant where he bused tables.
Inside Hooks' truck, police found a bag of marijuana, a digital scale and baggies in a book bag. Hooks told police he had just bought an ounce for $50 and sold quarter ounces for $20.
Police arrested him on a charge of marijuana possession, and his parents picked him up.
Life was a party for Hooks. At South Plantation High, he had been captain of the inline hockey team. He went to the prom. He got a job at Lefty's Tavern and Grille on State Road 84.
He graduated in May 2005, and then had time to pursue his interests -- fishing, hanging out with his buddies. Some friends told police his time also was spent looking for homeless people to beat up and bragging about his exploits.
"Brian liked to run his mouth about the stuff he did," Ryan McDavitt, 18, a friend of Daugherty's who has known Hooks for four years, told investigators. "Brian was basically the boss ... the instigator."
Friend Luciano Delmoro, 18, told police that Hooks was rumored to have beat up homeless people before.
One story he heard, according to court documents, started with Hooks driving by a homeless man and yelling something at him. The man said something back. A fight started; Hooks won.
"He just came back laughing about it," Delmoro said. "He actually hurt his fist on that."
Aiello and his mother, Jennifer Hull, saw Hooks' good side. As children, the boys fished, went trick-or-treating and exchanged gifts at Christmas. Childhood pictures of Hooks adorn their refrigerator.
"That kid doesn't have a mean bone in his body," Aiello said of Hooks. "[At a] New Year's Eve party, Brian got punched in the mouth and had to go to the hospital and get stitches. But he wouldn't hit the kid back. That's how Brian is."
Others remember a tough, mouthy boy who was well-known but not necessarily well-liked.
Lexie Dailey, 16, said Hooks had a reputation as a jock at South Plantation High School. She recalled that he once wore a Confederate flag on his backpack.
"Brian, he's not necessarily a bully, but he's rough around the edges," she said.
His parents hoped he would go to college. By all accounts, they were a stable force in his life. They have lived in their Plantation Isles home for almost a dozen years. His father, Brent, works for an elevator company; his mother, Brenda, is a legal secretary. The couple hired a lawyer from a prominent law firm to defend their son.
The notion of Hooks as a murder suspect is difficult for Billy Curtiss, owner of Carl's Bait & Tackle on Davie Boulevard. He remembers the "cute" and "talkative" little boy who came into the store with his father.
At 11, Hooks made headlines when he caught a 150-pound tarpon in the canals near his home. Until recently, Curtiss kept a photo of Hooks, on a dock with a 10-pound dolphin, on his refrigerator.
"I tore it up after the beating. I was tired of having people asking for it," he said. "They were mischievous teenagers. They did nothing none of us haven't done, except they took it a step too far. They ruined their lives."
Staff Writers Brian Haas, Jon Burstein, Paula McMahon and Bill Hirschman contributed to this report.Copyright © 2015, CT Now