Andrew Lukehart was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for the murder of a five month old girl. According to court documents Andrew Lukehart would tell the child’s mother that someone had kidnapped the baby and he was chasing him. Soon after Andrew Lukehart would crash the car and turn himself over to the police. Eventually Andrew Lukehart would admit to dropping the baby and throwing her body into a pond. An autopsy would reveal the child died from blunt force trauma to the head. Andrew Lukehart would be convicted and sentenced to death
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The victim in this case, five-month-old Gabrielle Hanshaw, was killed by Lukehart, who lived in Jacksonville with Gabrielle’s mother, Misty Rhue, along with Rhue’s other daughter, Ashley, and Rhue’s father and uncle. On February 25, 1996, Lukehart and Rhue spent Sunday afternoon running errands in Rhue’s car with the two children. When the four returned to their house on Epson Lane, Rhue took two-year-old Ashley, who had been ill, to her bedroom for a nap, and Lukehart cared for Gabrielle, the baby, in another room. At one point, Lukehart entered the bedroom and took a clean diaper for the baby. At approximately 5 p.m., Rhue heard her car starting in the driveway, looked out the window, and saw Lukehart driving away in her white Oldsmobile. Rhue searched the house for the baby and did not find her. Thirty minutes later, Lukehart called from a convenience store and told Rhue to call the 911 emergency number because someone in a blue Chevrolet Blazer had kidnapped the baby from the house. After Rhue called 911, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Detectives Tim Reddish and Phil Kearney went to the Epson Lane house.
Shortly thereafter, Lukehart appeared without shirt or shoes in the front yard of the residence of a Florida Highway Patrol trooper in rural Clay County. At about that same time, the car that Lukehart had been driving was discovered about a block away from the trooper’s house. The car was off the road and had been abandoned with its engine running. Law enforcement officers from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office interviewed Lukehart and searched in Clay County for the baby during the ensuing eighteen hours. At about noon on Monday, February 26, Lukehart told a lieutenant with the Clay County Sheriff’s Office that he had dropped the baby on her head and then shook the baby and that the baby had died at Misty Rhue’s residence. Lukehart said that when the baby died, he panicked, left Rhue’s residence, and threw the baby in a pond near Normandy Boulevard in Jacksonville. Law enforcement officers searched that area and found the baby’s body in a pond.
On March 7, 1996, Lukehart was indicted on one count of first-degree murder and one count of aggravated child abuse. The trial was held February 26 and February 27, 1997. During the trial, the State put into evidence the testimony of law enforcement officers who were involved in the search for the baby and who were with Lukehart during the evening of February 25 through the morning of February 26, 1996. The State also presented statements made by Lukehart. The State presented the testimony of the medical examiner, who testified that the baby’s body revealed bruises on her head and arm that occurred close to the time of death and that prior to death the baby had received five blows to her head, two of which created fractures.
Lukehart chose to testify in his defense at trial. Before Lukehart testified, the trial court appropriately advised him that he had a right not to testify and that if he did testify, he would be subject to cross-examination. In his testimony, Lukehart said that, while he was changing the baby’s diaper on the floor at Rhue’s residence, the baby repeatedly pushed up on her elbows. He forcefully and repeatedly pushed her head and neck onto the floor “until the last time I did it she just stopped moving, she was just completely still.” Lukehart testified to being six-feet one-inch tall and weighing 225 pounds. He stated that he used “quite a bit” of force to push the baby down. He testified that he tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, and when the baby did not revive, he panicked and grabbed the baby and drove to a rural area. He said that when he stopped and was in the process of getting out of the car, he accidentally hit the baby’s head on the car door. Lukehart testified that he threw the baby into the pond where her body was found. He admitted that he had not told law enforcement officers the truth in his earlier accounts of the incident and that, although he did not intend to kill the baby, he was responsible for her death. He said that he eventually told Lieutenant Jimm Redmond of the Clay County Sheriff’s Office that he was responsible for the baby’s death and that he had revealed the location of the baby’s body because “I felt bad, I felt guilty.”
The jury convicted Lukehart of first-degree murder and aggravated child abuse as charged. At the penalty phase, the State established that Lukehart had pleaded guilty to felony child abuse for injuring his former girlfriend’s baby and that Lukehart was on probation for that prior felony conviction. By a vote of nine to three, the jury recommended death. In its sentencing order, the trial court found that the following three statutory aggravators had been established: (1) that the murder was committed during commission of the felony of aggravated child abuse; (2) that the victim was under twelve years of age; and (3) that appellant had a prior violent felony conviction and was on felony probation (two factors merged). The trial court also found and gave some weight to the statutory mitigators of Lukehart’s age (twenty-two) and his substantially impaired capacity to appreciate the criminality of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law. The court found and gave some weight to the following nonstatutory mitigators: Lukehart’s alcoholic and abusive father; Lukehart’s drug and alcohol abuse; Lukehart’s being sexually abused and suicidal as a child; and Lukehart’s being employed. Finding that aggravators outweighed mitigators, the court sentenced Lukehart to death for the first-degree murder conviction and to fifteen years’ imprisonment for the aggravated child abuse conviction.