Richard England was sentenced to death by the State of Florida for the murder of an elderly man. According to court documents Richard England would beat to death seventy seven year old Howard Wetherell with a fire poker. Richard England would be arrested, convicted and sentenced to death.
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Howard Wetherell had spent his entire professional life offering his services to the community he was raised in, following in the massive footsteps of his famous family.
At 71 years old, he was widowed. He and his wife had raised three kids. He was on the Daytona Beach Planning Board. He had been a deacon at his church. He had run for office. He had seemingly lived a fulfilling life and believed he had more to give to his community.
One night in late June 2001, his life was violently taken from him. He was beaten to death with a fire poker inside his riverfront condo. His car, credit card, valuable dishware, antique gun collection and other belongings were stolen.
His killers crashed Wetherell’s car near Fort Walton Beach a few days after the murder. And one of those killers turned out to be well known to Wetherell: 18-year-old Michael Douglas Jackson, Wetherell’s former gay lover, who was arrested. When he was interviewed by police, he had referred to Wetherell as his “sugar daddy.”
Jackson’s accomplice, Richard England, who was 30 at the time, would be indicted two years later.
Jackson and England had violently attacked older, gay men earlier in their lives. England’s first victim was killed — bludgeoned with a motorcycle muffler — and he served time in prison.
Jackson’s first victim was nearly killed with a metal rod. Jackson attacked the man after he had kicked his then-underage companion out of his apartment. The victim lay bloodied and wounded in his apartment for up to two days until he was able to crawl to a phone and call an ambulance, according to news reports.
The news of Wetherell’s death, particularly the manner in which he died, shocked his friends and fellow city leaders in Daytona Beach.
“He was a very good friend,” said then-City Commissioner Darlene Yordon, who had nominated Wetherell to the planning board. “I am saddened and shocked.”
Wetherell’s cousin, T.K. Wetherell, once served as the Florida speaker of the house and later became the president of Florida State University. He had also served in an executive capacity at Daytona State College. The student services building on campus is named after him.
Howard Wetherell’s uncle, Tom Wetherell, was a patriarchal type who managed the old Sears building downtown. He helped steer his family members’ ambitions and was very active politically.
“He absolutely was a pillar of the community,” former Daytona Beach Mayor Larry Kelly said of Tom Wetherell in a recent interview.
“He used to help put my campaign signs together.”
His brother, and Howard Wetherell’s father, Carl Wetherell, was the chief building inspector for both the city of Daytona Beach and Volusia County. He also was a veteran of both World War I and World War II, serving in the Army for the first and the Navy for the second.
Howard Wetherell, who was affectionately called “Cooter” by those close to him, forged his own path.
He was born in 1929 and raised in Daytona. He graduated from Seabreeze High School and later Florida State.
At 28, he was appointed First Federal Saving and Loan Association’s director of community relations. Before that, he had spent time in Chicago, where he honed his public relations skills.
In 1966, he was selected as the Democratic State Executive Committeeman.
In 1978, he ran for Volusia County property appraiser but lost. In 1991, he applied to fill the vacant clerk of the circuit court seat in Volusia but was passed over by the governor.
In 1999, he was appointed to the planning board. While serving on the board, he supported the Magdalene House, a center in Daytona dedicated to rehabilitating prostitutes. He was also the treasurer of a committee that oversaw the upkeep of Pinewood Cemetery on Main Street, one of the city’s most historic cemeteries.
His wife preceded him in death in 1996.
Jackson told authorities that he and Wetherell lived together for a time. After they had stopped having sexual relations, Wetherell ordered him to move out. Out of anger, Jackson killed him.
Jackson went back and forth with detectives on whether he acted alone. On at least one occasion, he admitted England had helped him kill Wetherell. England had always denied it and still maintains his innocence.
In a recent motion submitted to the court, England argued the grand jury that issued the first-degree murder indictment in November 2003 relied on perjured testimony. That testimony, England has contended, came from Jackson. England requested to review the sealed grand jury transcript, but the judge on Monday denied that motion.
Based on trial records, England’s DNA was found on a cigarette butt he had left in the condo. He also had made calls to his friends from the victim’s phone. Profane messages were written on some of Wetherell’s pictures. The handwriting was matched to England, prosecutors said.
One of the witnesses called to the stand during England’s trial in May 2004 was a drug trafficker who said England exchanged the stolen property from Wetherell’s condo for drugs. The witness also said he heard England tell him that he killed Wetherell the same as he did his first victim 14 years earlier.
Jackson entered a guilty plea and was sentenced to life in prison. England was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Trial jurors recommended death by a vote of 8-4.
England is still facing death, but the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that death sentences from majority recommendations are unconstitutional. That means it is possible that England could either have his sentenced reduced to life in prison or be granted a new sentencing hearing.
During his 2004 trial, England became so disruptive and defiant with the judge that he spent the entire sentencing portion of the trial with duct tape across his mouth. The judge ordered him to be gagged, something that is rarely done during a criminal trial.