Jail escapees learn fates in 2009 murder

1 sentenced to death, 1 sentenced to life for killing 65-year-old woman

PALATKA, Fla. - Two jail escapees learned their fates Friday in the 2009 murder of a 65-year-old woman.

Doni Brown, 26, first pleaded no contest in Putnam County court and was sentenced to life in prison without parole, and Timothy Fletcher, 28, was later sentenced to death in a St. Johns County courtroom.

Brown, of Satsuma, and Fletcher, of Welaka, escaped from the Putnam County jail before killing Helen Googe in the hours after their escape. After leading law enforcement on a chase across several states, they were arrested back in Putnam County.

A St. Johns County jury -- where the trial was moved due to pretrial publicity -- convicted Fletcher of first-degree murder, and the jury recommended the death penalty. Prosecutors say Fletcher strangled Googe, his step-grandmother, while Brown only assisted.

"It was the defendant, not Doni Brown, who took Helen Googe's keys; the defendant who hated Helen Googe," Judge Wendy Berger said at Fletcher's sentencing hearing.

She said Brown's plea deal earlier in the day didn't affect her decision that Fletcher should die.

"Though her voice is silent, it is Helen Googe herself who tells us, 'You were the one who perpetrated this savage act,'" Berger said.

Googe was killed in her home, where the pair went to steal money in the hours after their April 15, 2009, escape. Prosecutors say they took $37 from Google, then beat and strangled her.

"The judge gave great weight that the co-defendant got a life sentence, but the evidence was clear who the perpetrator was of the murder," said State Attorney R.J. Larizza. "We're in the business of making justice fit the crime, and in this case, we believe a life sentence was appropriate for the co-defendant and the death sentence for this man."

Within days after the murder, the two men were sighted in a stolen car in Kentucky and Tennessee, but were caught back in Putnam County, not far from the murder scene.

Investigators say the pair were cellmates who were able to escape by ripping out a sink and toilet combination from the wall using a jack Fletcher apparently stole from a county van while returning from a court appearance.

They crawled through the hole in the wall, went out a door to the outside,  then dug under one fence and were able to get through a second one.

Brown was being held at the time on a 2008 armed robbery charge, and Fletcher was in jail after failure to appear on an aggravated assault charge.

Googe's family was present at both hearings Friday. Putnam County Sheriff Jeff Hardy sees it as a final chance at some relief for them.

"It's not going to bring Helen back," he said. "What is so, I think, it's brought some closure to the family."

"To say that this crime was heinous, atrocious, or cruel would be an understatement," Berger said to Fletcher. "May God have mercy on your soul."

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