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.