Judge Imposes Death Penalty In Prison Bus Murder

By: Eyewitness News; Julie Montanaro Email
By: Eyewitness News; Julie Montanaro Email
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UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
January 24, 2014

Circuit Judge Jonathan Sjostrom sentenced Elijah Brookins to death for the prison bus murder of fellow inmate Eric Sexton.

Sjostrom called the murder "heinous, atrocious and cruel" citing 26 stab wounds. One witness testified Brookins "appeared to be attempting to stab out Mr. Sexton's eyes," the judge wrote in his order.
He noted eyewitnesses testified Sexton screamed at the top of his lungs and the "attack was lengthy in time."

The judge followed the jury's 10 to 2 recommendation that Brookins receive the death penalty.

The death sentence is subject to automatic review by the Florida Supreme Court.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
December 12, 2013

A Gadsden County jury has recommended the death penalty in a brutal prison bus stabbing.

This afternoon jurors voted 10 to 2 in favor of the death penalty for Elijah Brookins.

Brookins was convicted yesterday in the September 2011 murder of Eric Sexton.

Both men were already doing time for murder.

Witnesses say Brookins stabbed Sexton at least 20 times while on board a prison van passing through Tallahassee.

Brookins has not been sentenced yet. He'll be back in court in January, 2014. A judge will ultimately decide whether to follow the death penalty recommendation or impose a life sentence.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
December 11, 2013 7pm

A man accused of stabbing a fellow inmate aboard a prison transport bus has just been convicted of murder.

Elijah Brookins suprised everyone and took the stand today. He testified it was another inmate who stabbed Eric Sexton to death that day in September 2011, but clearly the jury didn't buy it.

Jurors deliberated for 45 minutes this afternoon before reaching a guilty verdict.

Now, they'll have to decide if Brookins should be sentenced to life in prison or death.

The penalty phase of the trial starts tomorrow.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
December 10, 2013 6:45pm

WARNING: Inmate Testimony Below Contains Graphic Content

A deadly attack spanned three counties and left a prison transport bus awash in blood.

Inmates aboard that bus took the stand today in the murder trial of Elijah Brookins. He's accused of stabbing a fellow inmate to death on a trip trhough Tallahassee.

Elijah Brookins was escorted into court by five corrections officers.

He is accused of a stabbing so brutal it sent other inmates running for the back of the bus.

This inmate was sitting right behind Brookins when it started.

"Mr. Sexton was kind of like defending himself...that's when I seen the knife that came out and I seen blood just start squirting," he said.

The bus was headed from a prison in Monticello to one in Chipley. He says the stabbing started soon after the bus got on the interstate.

"Non stop.. just kept going and going and going."

Eric Sexton was screaming, he said, and Brookins was wielding a sharpened metal shank.

It sat in a clear evidence tube in the middle of the courtroom.

Jurors got to see some of the bloody and graphic photos taken aboard the bus afterwards.

Prosecutors say Sexton was stabbed more than 20 times. Witnesses on board say Brookins sat down afterward, propped his feet up on Sexton's body and ate a sandwich. and then urinated on him.

"You didn't see anything out of the ordinary during your security check?" the prosecutor asked.

"No sir, I did not," said Gorden Wester who was the DOC Corrections Officer in charge of security on the bus.

"You didn't hear anything out of the ordinary?"

"No sir," Wester said.

Defense attorneys asked repeatedly how all this could unfold in the first few rows of the bus without either one of the corrections officers on board noticing.

He held up a log that shows the officers did the required head counts every 30 minutes.

"He was screaming officer, officer...help me, officer," one of the inmates testified.

While Sexton screamed at the top of his lungs, he said, the rest of the inmates were quietly huddled in the back of the bus. He said a few of them discussed trying to overpower Brookins but decided against it.

Testimony will continue tomorrow.

Prosecutors intend to seek the death penalty if Brookins is convicted.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
December 10, 2013 2pm

Another inmate is testifying now. He was sitting in the seat directly in front of Sexton.

He says "out of nowhere" Brookins attacked Sexton. There was no loud talking, no discussion, nothing before, he said.

He says when he turned around Sexton was looking at him and had a hole in his face where he had been stabbed.

He says Brookins said "You can't get away from me."

He says Sexton was yelling officer, officer but no one responded. He says Sexton was screaming for his life but the rest of the inmates were silent.

He says he asked some other inmates about ganging up on Brookins and taking the knife away but no one else wanted to get involved.


UPDATED
By: Julie Montanaro
December 10, 2013, 1:30 p.m.

WARNING: Inmate Testimony Below Contains Graphic Content

An inmate on board the bus is testifying now. He says he was sitting in the seat behind Elijah Brookins.

He says soon after the bus got on the interstate he saw Brookins attack Eric Sexton. At first he thought they were fighting but then he saw blood.

The inmate testified Brookins was stabbing Sexton "non stop" for three counties.

He testified that he and most of the other inmates moved to the back of the bus. He said Sexton was screaming and trying to defend himself. He said one inmate yelled "that's enough" but other than that no one intervened.

He says when Brookins stopped, Brookins put on a pair of rubber gloves, searched inside Sexton's rectum and then went through his belongings piece by piece and ripped up Sexton's pictures.

The inmate said Brookins got the water cooler and tried to wash the blood off his hands. He says Brookins then sat down, put his feet up on Sextons body and ate his lunch. He testified Brookins then urinated on him.

The inmate says during the attack Sexton was screaming "at the top of his lungs" but no one else was screaming.

He says Sexton and Brookins were near the front of the bus and were initially sitting in the second row right across the aisle from each other. He says it was loud on the bus, but not loud enough that they had to yell to communicate. He says during the attack he never saw a guard looking into the back of the bus.


UPDATED
By: Julie Montanaro
December 10, 2013, 11 a.m.

SGT Raymond Hill is testifying now. Hill says he did an initial count of the inmates on board the prison transport bus. He says he refilled the water keg on board.

Hill says he was the bus driver the day Eric Sexton was killed. He says he was focused on the road and said fellow corrections officer Gorden Wester was in charge of security that day.

Hill testified he did not see anything unusual during the ride, but on cross examination, Hill testified that even if he had seen something, they are not authorized under any circumstances to go back into the bus to stop it.

Even if you saw an apparent homicide happening? Defense attorney Chuck Collins asked. "No sir," Hill said.


UPDATED
By: Julie Montanaro
December 10, 2013, 10 a.m.

Gorden Wester was the first to testify. He was the DOC officer in charge of doing security checks on the prison transport bus the day Eric Sexton was killed.

Wester testified he looked through the plexiglass and security gate every thirty minutes and did not see or hear anything out of the ordinary.

It may be "the loudest bus we have," Wester said. He testified he and the driver almost have to yell at each other to talk.

Wester said when the transport bus arrived at the reception center in Chipley, he was helping to remove leg irons from inmates getting off the bus. He said when Elijah Brookins got off the bus he had on a t-shirt with a blood stain on his shoulder.

Wester says he got in the bus and found Eric Sexton on the floor propped up against a seat. He said he yelled at Sexton and got no response. Then he called to "get medical down here."

On cross examination, Wester said when he made his security checks he never saw inmates standing in the back of the bus and never saw any inmates motionless in the aisle.

"You can see, but you can't see perfectly," Wester said.


UPDATED
By: Julie Montanaro
December 10, 2013, 9 a.m.

Elijah Brookins is now on trial for murder in a Gadsden County courtroom.

He was escorted into court by five uniformed corrections officers who are now stationed throughout the courtroom.

Brookins is accused of brutally stabbing fellow inmate Eric Sexton on a prison transport bus in September 2011.

At least three DOC employees will be witnesses in the case. They were asked to step outside the courtroom until it is their turn to testify.

Prosecutors will seek the death penalty if Brookins is convicted.


UPDATED
By: Julie Montanaro
December 9, 2013

A brutal murder on a prison transport bus will go before a judge and jury this week.

Elijah Brookins is on trial in Gadsden County for the September 2011 murder of Eric Sexton.

Witnesses say Sexton was stabbed 15 to 20 times as prison guards drove inmates from Jefferson C-I to the Florida Reception Center in Chipley.

Deputies say Brookins was the last inmate off the bus and was covered in blood.

Pictures from the case file show Sexton's belongings strewn all over the floor and blood covering several of the seats.

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Brookins if he's convicted.

Attorneys spent the day today trying to choose a jury.

Testimony could begin tomorrow.


UPDATED
By Julie Montanaro
October 3, 2013

The family of a Florida prison inmate stabbed to death aboard a prison transport bus is now suing the state for failing to stop it.

Eric Sexton was killed on the road somewhere between Jefferson County and Gadsden County and his family claims the correctional officers on board are partlty to blame.

We must warn you both this story and the pictures that go with it are graphic and disturbing.

Eric Sexton was doing time for murder himself. 40 years in the Department of Corrections.

He got aboard this prison transport bus on September 20th, 2011 and never got off.

Sexton was one of 24 inmates who left Jefferson C-I that morning at 10:32. By the time the bus reached the Northwest Florida Recpetion Center in Chipley two hours and 16 minutes later, Sexton was dead.

"I don't think anybody should have to go through what Mr. Sexton went through regardless of his offense," Sexton family attorney Robert Dwyer said in a phone interview Thursday.

When the bus pulled up to the prison in Chipley, Elijah Brookins was the last inmate to get off the bus. Corrections officers said he was covered in blood. He's now charged with Sexton's murder.

According to interviews in a DOC Inspector General's report, some inmates on board say they were asleep and never saw a thing, but others described chaos saying Sexton was screaming for his life and other inmates were screaming too.

One said Brookins stabbed Sexton 15-20 times including in the eye, face and neck.

When Brookins was done, another inmate said, he urinated on Sexton, used the water cooler on board to clean up and then sat down and ate a sandwich.

Attachments to that same DOC report show the two sergeants in charge of the transport filled out incident reports and neither one claims to have heard a thing.

"At no time .. did I hear any distrubance from the back of the bus," Sergeant Raymond Hill wrote.

The other sergeant Gordon Wester signed off on the bus log that he did security checks at 11, 11:30 and 12 noon "looking through the Plexiglass and metal screen into the rest of the bus."

Sexton's attorney contends that never happened because they would have discovered the attack in progress or the aftermath and could have prevented Sexton's death.

"Anybody who looked into the back of the bus would have figured out somebody was seriously injured," Dwyer said. "They clearly did not do their jobs, it would be hard to imagine they could do anything less."

Dwyer points to inmate interviews that say the attack happened soon after the bus left Jefferson CI. Dwyer claims it happened within the first hour or so because the suspected murder weapon - a nearly 12 inch metal shank - was found on the side of I-10 in Gadsden County.

Dwyer wonders how that shank got on the bus in the first place.

The Florida Department of Corrections refused to answer any questions about this case citing pending litigation.

It did update us on the status of the correctional officers involved. Both are still working for the department of corrections and neither was disciplined in any way for this incident.

"He died a pretty horrific death without any assistance from the people that were being paid to protect him," Dwyer claimed.

The wrongful death suit was filed in Leon Circuit Court September 18th.

Elijah Brookins is scheduled to stand trial for Sexton's murder in Gadsden County in December. Prosecutors there are seeking the death penalty.


UPDATED: July 2, 2012 5:30pm
by Julie Montanaro

Prosecutors are revealing more information about a deadly stabbing aboard a prison transport bus in September.

Assistant State Attorney Georgia Cappelman says Elijah Brookins stabbed Eric Sexton more than 20 times with a handmade knife. Cappelman says the shank was recovered on the side of Interstate 10 in Gadsden County.

Cappleman says because no one can be sure if Sexton was killed in Jefferson, Leon or Gadsden County, Brookins will be allowed to choose in which county he's tried.

Cappelman says the driver of the prison bus had no idea Sexton was attacked and killed until the bus arrived at its destination at the Northwest Florida Reception Center in Washington County. She says when the inmates filed off the bus there, one had blood on his shirt and one was missing. Sexton was found dead inside the bus.

Cappelman says there was a total of 24 inmates on the bus.

Cappelman says there is no surveillance system that allows the driver and accompanying guard to see what's going on in the back of the bus and there are two plexiglass barriers that may have muffled the sound.

Cappelman says the inmates on board wear leg shackles, but not handcuffs. Cappelman says even if the bus driver heard the attack, the bus would not be able to pull over and stop, except in a secure area or sally port.

We are trying to get more information on this incident from the Department of Corrections. Spokeswoman Ann Howard says DOC will not release information on the DOC's transport protocols because it could jeopardize people's safety.


UPDATED 7.2.2012 by Julie Montanaro

33 year old Elijah Brookins has just been indicted by a Leon County grand jury in the murder of Eric Sexton.

Sexton was killed aboard a prison transport van in September 2011.

Brookins was indicted last week and this morning, a judge signed an order to transport Brookins from Florida State Prison to Leon County.

According to Department of Corrections records, Brookins is serving a life sentence for a 1995 murder in Escambia County.

Sexton was still alive when he left a stop at Jefferson Correctional. It is not clear where he was killed along the way.


Tallahassee, FL -- September 21 , 2011

According to Gretl Plessinger with Florida Department of Corrections, Eric Sexton, 34, was killed during an inmate transport from one prison to another Tuesday morning. DOC says it happened after a stop at the Jefferson Correctional Institute.

Sexton, who was sentenced in Orange County, was serving a 40-year sentence for second degree murder. Another inmate is being called a suspect in Sexton’s death, but DOC is not releasing his name at this time. Investigators have recovered a weapon, but are not saying what the weapon is at this time.

The inmates were being transported from Columbia Correctional Institute, and heading to Northwest Florida Reception Center in Washington County. DOC will not say how many inmates were on the bus or what security measures were in place. The case remains under investigation.


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Comments are posted from viewers like you and do not always reflect the views of this station.
  • by foxy-sunshine on Apr 9, 2012 at 09:08 PM
    Teresa... I was just wondering if he at least got to go home and NOT be burried at the prison cemetary? He had called me his best friend... I had been writing him since he was at 33rd (sadly not as much as I should have). He is and will always be in my heart... sorry for your losses (both of them)
    • reply
      by Teresa on May 7, 2012 at 07:30 AM in reply to foxy-sunshine
      Thank you for being a great friend to my brother! We did bring him home.
  • by jon Location: apopka on Oct 23, 2011 at 02:33 PM
    wow cant belive the news me and eric were good friends growing up and fell out of contact after he went to prison. he was a good man who made a big mistake and i will miss him wish i could of had contact with him he will be missed and never forgotten. RIP My Friend Eric S Sexton
    • reply
      by Teresa on Dec 6, 2011 at 02:09 PM in reply to jon
      Thank you for your kind words Jon.
  • by Paul Location: Australia on Oct 18, 2011 at 04:46 PM
    I was a friend of Erics - we wrote on and off for the last 8 years - I only just found out this morning when my last letter was returned. I feel terrible - it's a shock - to be honest I can't believe it. My best wishes to his family...
    • reply
      by Teresa on Dec 6, 2011 at 02:08 PM in reply to Paul
      Paul - I am sorry you found out this way. Thank you for being a friend to my brother! Your friendship to him is greatly appreciated and I pray you will be Blessed in a mighty way. Again, Thank you!
  • by anonymous Location: florida on Oct 1, 2011 at 07:42 AM
    first off i feel terrible for what had happened for both parties, the inmate that was killed in transportation and for the family member he had killed.. He was doing his time for his crime and he was young when it happened which is no excuse but sometimes things go wrong and its not the parents fault as to why this young man killed..Justice was being served and he did not deserve this..Prison is a terrible place to be especially in a state prison and not a federal prison where the inmates there seem to have more protection by the guards and they seem to be better equipped , cameras, more staff guards and yes the inmates tend to have it better there..either way i feel for both and this should not have happened..
  • by Eric Location: Tampa on Sep 30, 2011 at 06:51 PM
    It just shows how broken the Florida Department of Corrections truly is. I am a former Correctional officer and there is no reason for an inmate to be killed on a transport van when safety and security is always supposed to be the Department number one concern no matter what the inmate was in prison for. FL DOC hides their true numbers of inmates who are killed each year in there care by combining the categories of inmate’s assault and death into one. What is the true number of just how many inmates are killed each and every day in Florida prisons?
  • by Jean Location: Tallahassee, fl on Sep 26, 2011 at 04:41 AM
    This isn't the fisrt time, nor will this kind of behavior end.I refuse to blam the guards involved but would like to add some things that I think are a serious problem in our system.There are many inmates and few guards to control the situation. as a woman myself, I know I couldn't handle 1 male inmate, I would be forced to standby. Why would DOC hire ppl that couldn't protect themselves or others? If female officers need a job they should be out of harms way in an office setting etc. My daughter shouldn't never have to be put in this situation or submit herself to a career such as this. The falling economy has forced many to take on jobs that are available...The question here is: How can you hide such a weapon upon search? How many guards were assisting in the transfer? I'm sure we'll never get a straight answer to many questions, meanwhile the families suffer..
  • by zach Location: orlando on Sep 23, 2011 at 07:48 PM
    my aunt was a good friend of his she wants to know if any of his friends or family is going to claim his body?
    • reply
      by Teresa on Sep 27, 2011 at 11:25 AM in reply to zach
      Zach, I would like to know who your Aunt is. I am Eric's sister and we traveled up to see him and pay our last respects and we have arranged for him to be cremated.
      • reply
        by Zach on Sep 27, 2011 at 02:39 PM in reply to Teresa
        My aunts name is irene harris or "beth" harris she lived in apopka
      • reply
        by beth on Sep 30, 2011 at 12:54 PM in reply to Teresa
        eric sexton was my best friend and has bee from the age of 12 i have been in contact with eric for the last 11 months and we wrote beck and forth daily , let me at least say that he was at peace with god and himself . and that he was verry happy to be being transferd to holmes county where he would have had a weekly visitor (me) eric had a good heart an intreaging mind and a hopefull soul and i will miss him each day for the rest of my life . i love you and miss you everyday my dearist friend ,love beth
        • reply
          by Teresa on Oct 18, 2011 at 08:48 AM in reply to beth
          Beth - thank you for posting. Thank you for being a great friend to my brother. It is truly comforting to know that he had someone he could talk to. I especially am grateful to you for letting me know he was at peace with God. I am sorry for your loss as I know you are hurting very much <3
      • reply
        by Paul on Oct 18, 2011 at 11:24 PM in reply to Teresa
        Teresa, Eric and I were friends for the last 8 years - we wrote and spoke on the phone - I only just found out the news today - I am thinking of you and your family. Eric was a great friend and I will miss him very much indeed.
  • by Diana on Sep 23, 2011 at 01:04 PM
    I have known Eric since he was 10 years old. He is my best friend's brother. Was he raised to be a murderer? No. Did he murder someone? Yes. Were we all hurt by it? Yes. One single event does not necessarily define someone's life. He was loved by his family. He was a human being who made a bad decision. He was put in prison because that's where he belonged. He was paying for his mistake every single day. As a parent, I love my children no matter what they do. I may not like a certain behavior or action but I still love them! This family is no different. They don't love what he did but the LOVED HIM! Don't be so quick to say such hateful things about someone you don't know. His family has been reading all your comments and I know firsthand that it hurts. Please be considerate of his family regardless of how you feel about what he did.
  • by joe Location: quincy on Sep 23, 2011 at 08:30 AM
    my son is a correction officer and he just left the state for a county jail position that paid him 5000 more than what he was making with the state.the state did not offer him more to stay even though they didnt want him to leave. they couldnt. one less experienced officer gone.
  • by Anonymous on Sep 23, 2011 at 05:59 AM
    Explain to me how an inmate being transported can be killed with out the officers knowing it was happening? How did the suspect have a weapon if they are searched?
    • reply
      by Retired on Sep 24, 2011 at 05:12 PM in reply to
      Due to the the policies the officer's are seperated from the inmates while driving; when an officer has a weapon they are not allowed to walk around the inmates, so there is a gate kind of deal seperating the bus aisle and the officer/driver due to them both having a gun. This is so an inmate can not get the gun and kill everyone (staff and inmates)....and the inmates are not going to bring it to the officer's attention because whoever tells will be the "snitch" and will be on the hit list, no one wants to be the snitch in prison. I know a lot of people do not understand until you work in one....I worked for DOC for a long time, it is a tuff job. As for being searched, all inmates are and should be searched before any transport however depending on where they hide the weapon which is normally somewhere the sun don't shine if you get me, they get hard to find obviously. This is a sad situation and I will be praying for all involved.
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