Charles Wesley Strickland was sentenced to Life in prison Thursday for the brutal 2020 beating death of Clifford Matthew Lowrey at a homeless camp near the beach, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
A jury took about 90 minutes to return verdicts of guilty as charged against Strickland, 58, for Second-Degree Murder and Tampering with Physical Evidence. Evidence and testimony presented at the two-day trial showed Lowrey died from multiple blows to the head, face, and body with a steel rebar.
Bay County Chief Assistant Prosecutor Mark Graham asked Circuit Court Judge Brantley Clark to impose the maximum sentence, citing the defendant’s lengthy criminal history and the violent nature of the murder.
“He has been violent for a while,” Graham said at sentencing, noting 9 convictions of battery among his past charges. “This was, in my career, probably one of the most vicious beatings I’ve seen.”
Judge Clark agreed, sentencing the defendant to life.
During the trial, Graham noted for jurors the number of officers involved from the Panama City Beach Police Department and the hundreds of hours of video they reviewed, the three days they spent at the crime scene in the woods near a retention pond, and the mountains of evidence they gathered.
The evidence included a videotaped “walk-through” of the crime scene with Panama City Beach Police Chief J.R. Talamantez and the co-defendant who admitted to helping move the body. It was filmed the day she was picked up for questioning.
“It was all hands on deck, they took this seriously,” Graham said. “This case shows that the laws apply as equally to our homeless citizens as they do to our most affluent.”
Testimony and evidence at trial proved the defendant, the victim and co-defendant Samantha Booth were at a spot in the woods near a retention pond where several homeless people had set up tents and makeshift living quarters on Nov. 5, 2020.
Booth has already pled to Accessory After the Fact to Second-Degree Murder and Tampering with Physical Evidence. Her sentence will be determined by the judge and could range from 39 months to 20 years.
Booth testified there had been some arguing amongst the group and that was not unusual. She said when things had calmed, the defendant left his chair, went to an area set up to play horseshoes, and returned with a rebar that was used as a post in the game.
She testified the victim was sitting in a chair looking at his phone and “never saw it coming” when the defendant came up behind him and swung the metal rebar like a baseball bat, hitting him in the head.
Her testimony and the findings of Dr. Jay Radtke, Chief Medical Examiner for the 14th Judicial Circuit, showed the beating continued with at least 10 blows to the head and more to the body.
Radtke testified the victim likely would have been dead or unconscious after the first blow.
Booth testified that afterward, the defendant threatened her and made her help him move the body, where he partially buried it.
The defendant took the stand and claimed it was Booth and another woman who beat the victim to death while he watched and he was helpless to stop them, but that was not supported by the evidence and discounted by jurors.
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