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East County Saturday, Dec. 5, 2009 8 years ago

Jury convicts Tim Brooks of murder


MANATEE COUNTY — One of Lakewood Ranch High School’s most promising athletes is now a convicted murderer.

After just three hours of deliberation, a jury found former Mustang quarterback Tim Brooks, 19, guilty of first-degree murder in the July 13, 2008, shooting death of William White Jr. Now, instead of college ball, Brooks faces a mandatory life sentence. That hearing is scheduled for Jan. 4, 2010.

The verdict comes less than 18 months after White and his friend, Jakob Cunnien, drove to the 1600 block of 27th Avenue Drive East to sell marijuana to Brooks and his friend Cody Rogers, a 2008 Lakewood graduate and River Club resident. Assistant State Attorney Art Brown told jurors Brooks and Rogers, armed with pistols, robbed White and Cunnien when they arrived.

Witnesses said they saw Brooks pull his weapon and aim it inside the vehicle. He also ripped a necklace off White’s neck. According to Manatee County Sheriff’s Office reports, White attempted to drive away during the robbery. Brooks shot inside the vehicle, hitting White in the neck, Brown said.

Neither gun has been recovered. However, a key piece of the prosecution’s evidence was Brooks’ palm print found on the outside of the car in which White was shot.

Brooks’ attorney, Assistant Public Defender Peter Belmont, argued that his client knew Cunnien and that the palm print was left before the shooting. He also questioned the credibility of the state’s witnesses.

Brooks and his family have maintained his innocence since the murder occurred. Before the shooting, he had emerged as one of the leaders of and a key component on Lakewood’s football team. After an injury to the Mustangs’ original starter, Brooks assumed the quarterback position and led the team in touchdowns his junior year. He also had been a three-year starter on the basketball team.

And just weeks before the shooting, colleges had begun calling for possible scholarship opportunities.

The conviction brings an end to a tragic story that shocked Lakewood’s community in 2008.

“At the time it happened, it was something that impacted a lot of people at the school,” said former Principal Mike Wilder. “There were friends of Timmy’s, teachers … they were in shock. They knew Timmy. They knew Timmy on campus. They knew him as a friend and athlete and good student and were very shocked and disappointed in these charges.”

Because the student population changes so quickly, current Principal Linda Nesselhauf said she did not notice that the conviction had any effect on her school.

“Students who were on the campus at the time — most of them have graduated and moved on,” she said. “We don’t have many who would have been in the hallways with Tim.”

Manatee County Public Schools did not allow Lakewood teachers to comment regarding Brooks’ conviction. However, spokesperson Margi Nanney issued a statement on the district’s behalf.

“I think we all agree that what transpired with Mr. Brooks was very unfortunate,” she said. “All of us in education know that students who make poor decisions must live with the outcomes of their behavior for the rest of their lives. We hope that his actions will serve as examples for others to find a more positive path in their lives.”

Manatee County Commissioner Gwen Brown, a longtime advocate against teen violence, said she hopes Brooks’ conviction will send a message to the community’s youth that violence is not an acceptable way to solve problems.

“The community will not tolerate it,” Brown said. “You have two families destroyed, and they are destroyed for a lifetime. … (Murder) is not an OK thing. We’ve just got to continue to push forward the thought — we’ve got to save our kids. And there’s a lot of people out there trying to deal with that very issue. We’ve got to just save our kids.”

The trial for Rogers, who also faces a murder charge in White’s death, is scheduled to begin in February.

Contact Michael Eng at [email protected] or Pam Eubanks at [email protected].

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