CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – A man was found guilty Friday evening in the murder of Navy Cmdr. Alphonso Doss in an Orange Park hotel room two years ago.
Anthony Washington, 31, was convicted of first-degree felony murder and burglary with assault or battery.
Doss was strangled in a room at the Astoria Hotel in February 2014.
"It means a lot because Cmdr. Doss deserved this. He served our country honorably and he should not have been murdered the way he was. He should not have died and be left like an animal in that motel room," said Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda.
Tom and Carolyn Allen, Doss' parents, told News4Jax that they were relieved to hear the jury read the verdict after deliberating for about five hours.
"I'm very happy. We came to see justice done for our son and we got that. And I think that Bernie de la Rionda, all the people with the county, did a great job and we're very happy," Tom Allen said.
Doss' parents said they have sympathy for Washington's family, but said nothing will bring their son back.
"His death was devastating to us. So we're pleased at the way the trial was handled and the case was handled by the detectives and we can move on from here," Tom Allen said.
Washington now faces life in prison. He will be sentenced the week of Oct. 3.
Doss' estranged wife, Yolinda, and another man, Ronnie Wilson II, are also accused in Doss' murder.
Jury hears closing arguments in Navy commander murder trial
The jury began deliberating about 4:30 p.m. Friday after hearing closing arguments in the trial.
Washington's attorney made a last-minute request for acquittal, telling the judge that there was not enough evidence presented in court to support the charges. The judge denied the request.
Washington told a jury that he had developed a romantic relationship with the man's estranged wife and went there to intimidate the man, not kill him.
Washington admitted going to the Doss' room that night, but said things got out of hand and Doss attacked him and he fought back. He said he did not intend to kill Doss, but when the man lunged at him, he caught him by the neck and threw him against the wall.
"He was climbing on the bed. As he was climbing on the bed, he goes to lunge and attack me, saying, 'I hate you,' or 'I’m going to kill you,' or something like that," Washington said. "After he’s lunging, I catch him in midair. When I catch him in midair, he tries to hit me with a bottle. I slapped the bottle out of his hand. I throw him. When I throw him, he lands kind of awkwardly on his side with his back hitting the wall."
During about three hours of testimony, Washington portrayed Doss as a drunk and who was abusive toward his wife.
Prosecutors hammered Washington over what they called multiple lies he told police.
"What person claims self-defense, if he's justified in doing that, and just takes off? And then repeatedly, repeatedly lies to the police?" said Assistant State Attorney Bernie de la Rionda during closing arguments. "He keeps changing his story and every time, the facts don't support him. He changes it somewhat to make it fit the facts."
Washington said he had been unaware that Yolinda Doss was across the street during the attack. Prosecutors also asked about the third suspect, Wilson, who prosecutors said was waiting at the door, possibly as a lookout. They also grilled Washington on the claim that Doss swung a bottle, since no bottle had been found in the room.
During Washington's testimony, his defense attorneys asked for a mistrial over claims that jurors appeared to be sharing notes. The judge reminded two jurors they were not allowed to do that.
Washington's attorney, Tom Fallis, said Friday that there is not enough evidence from the state to prove premeditated murder, nor is there enought to prove felony murder. Fallis said his client was defending himself.
"Anthony Washington is not guilty. He is not guilty. That’s not my, perhaps it is my feeling, but that is not because I say so. He is not guilty because the two things you are taking into consideration, the evidence and the law, say that," Fallis said. "Mr. de la Rionda says, ‘We don’t have to prove any motive in this case.' Well, I guess, technically, they don’t. But there was a motive in this case and it is that of Mr. Washington, but it wasn’t a motive to commit murder. It was a motive to protect people he cared for."
The prosecution rested its case on Wednesday. While making its case, prosecutors replayed interrogations that investigators had with Washington after the killing.
The first was on Feb. 19, 2014.
“I asked her, I said, 'Did he kill?' I said, 'Did he kill himself, or was he drinking?'” Washington told investigators. He stuck to that story throughout the interview.
Six months later, he was back in the interrogation room as investigators told him they had talked to Doss' wife and needed to “clear some things up.”
Washington tried to stick to his first story, prosecutors said, but eventually, as investigators gave him some of the details they had obtained through surveillance videos and other interviews, he gave a different version.
But it still wasn't his final version, prosecutors said.
Washington finally told investigators that he had been hiding in the room, waiting for Doss to return.
Washington said he had wanted to scare Doss for the way he treated his estranged wife. Eventually, Washington gave investigators more details about what happened inside the hotel room, including that he had Doss by the neck for 5 to 10 seconds.
“When I threw him on the bed, just him struggling, for whatever. I was like, 'Man, he tripping. I guess he drunk,'” Washington said. “He gonna do something. He pulled all that stuff, just grabbing for whatever he could off the bed.”
Washington told investigators that he took a breathing machine out of Doss’ room. He said he took it because Doss threw it, and he wanted to take it out of spite.
Prosecutors said Tuesday that Doss' death had been an elaborate setup that involved Washington waiting in a room at the Astoria Hotel for Doss to return.
Investigators said that Washington, Yolinda Doss and Wilson plotted to kill Alphonso Doss so that Ms. Doss could cash in on a $1 million life insurance policy. They said Washington and Wilson tried to make the killing look as if it had happened during a burglary, while Yolinda Doss served as a lookout.
Crime scene photos were shown for the jury Tuesday in court, and the doctor who performed the autopsy on Doss testified that the injuries he found were consistent with injuries from a strangulation by someone's hands.
Yolinda Doss and Wilson do not have trial dates set.
Text messages, surveillance video build case in Doss murder
Search warrants allowed investigators to access all three of the suspects' cellphones, and communications leading up to the slaying shows the close relationship between the three and what appears to be their desire for Cmdr. Doss’ death.
"He is becoming more and more inconvenient," Yolinda Doss allegedly wrote about her husband in a text message that was found among the deleted messages on her phone. It was sent little more than a month before he was strangled to death.
In other text message exchanges, Washington, a man Yolinda admitted to having an affair with, talked with Yolinda Doss about her estranged husband becoming aggressive.
Yolinda Doss: "The a**hole locked himself in my other office upstairs and he won't leave. This is why my eye was hurting."
Washington: "Is he passed out"
Yolinda Doss: "Drunk but not passed out just being an ass and wont leave."
Washington: "U up there with him?"
Yolinda Doss: "Just chill"
Washington: "Want it to happen tonite?"
Yolinda Doss: "No"
Washington: "Yes...should I leave?"
Yolinda Doss: "I'm scared."
Washington: "Go downstairs."
Among the evidence in the court file is surveillance video showing a silver Nissan Titan Extended Cab truck driving by Doss' room at 3:23 p.m. One minute later two people were seen entering Cmdr. Doss' hotel room using one of the keys made for and given to Yolinda Doss earlier that day.
Based on their height, investigators believe the two people were Washington and Wilson. At that same time, phone records reveal the phone believed to be used by Washington placed a call to Yolinda Doss' cellphone.
In the next 23 minutes, four phone calls were made between Yolinda Doss' phone and Washington's phone.
At 4:08 p.m. the surveillance video shows who investigators believe to be Cmdr. Doss trying unsuccessfully to get into his room, then going to the lobby. Investigators say it is perhaps because his card doesn't work.
He then walks into his room minutes later, and around the same time, Yolinda Doss' car is seen pulling into the parking lot across the street.
Minutes after Cmdr. Doss enters the room, Yolinda Doss goes into the lobby to drop off his mail. At 4:49 p.m. two people are seen exiting room 183 and then one minute later, the silver Nissan Titan is seen leaving the Astoria Hotel parking lot.
Cmdr. Doss is never seen on that video again.
Investigators said Wilson and Washington met at Yolinda Doss' home later for dinner.
Both men told investigators they had been at the gym, then at Washinton's parents house, but investigators found out Washington's father owns a silver Nissan Titan, which he lets his son use.
Investigators said Yolinda Doss actually went and got two keys made to her husband's hotel room, and at some point went to the room and used them. They believe that was an attempt to make sure they would work.
One of those keys was used to enter the room at the same time investigators saw the men believed to be the suspects on the surveillance video.