Nearly two-and-a-half years after Holmes Correctional Institution inmate Kevin Parker lost his life in a scuffle, Raymond L. Strong was sentenced for wielding the fatal blows with a makeshift weapon.
A two-day trial in Holmes County ended late Thursday evening after six jurors found 38-year-old Strong guilty of second-degree murder in the slaying of Parker. Circuit Judge Russell Roberts handed down a sentence of life in prison immediately following the verdict.
Â“Mr. Strong was angry and wasn’t going to let the punch in his face stand,Â” said State Attorney Benjamin Keown during closing arguments. Â“He chased down an unarmed man and stabbed him to death on the stairwell. He showed indifference when he stabbed, stopped, looked and stabbed intentionally in the chest not caring if Kevin Parker lived or died.Â”
Keown summed up what jurors saw multiple times in surveillance video of the altercation that occurred in the H-dorm common area April 19, 2020. The incident began with Parker approaching Strong and another inmate, 32-year-old Qwantas D. Johnson.
According to the arrest affidavit from Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), video surveillance showed Parker initiating the altercation with Strong. ParkerÂ’s plan to fight was evident by the extra protective layers he was wearing when he punched Strong in the face. But Parker was unarmed and unaware of a shank knife Strong had concealed in his pants.
Medical Examiner Dr. Jay Radtke testified that Parker had multiple stab wounds in his upper torso and ultimately died from a stab wound to the chest. The wound went all the way through the aorta causing the sack around the heart to fill with blood which led to ParkerÂ’s death.
FDLE Crime Lab Analyst and DNA expert Kendelle Olson gave testimony as to the DNA found on the murder weapon.
Â“Two sets of DNA were found on the weapon,Â” Olson said. Â“DNA belonging to Strong was found on the handle and on the lanyard clip while ParkerÂ’s DNA was found on the blade itself. JohnsonÂ’s DNA was not found anywhere on the weapon.Â”
Johnson pled guilty to aggravated battery on a detainee last year after DNA evidence cleared him of being guilty of ParkerÂ’s murder.
Strong faced being charged for ParkerÂ’s death, and passed on a plea deal of 15 years in prison. Strong had another strategy in mind and decided to represent himself pro se claiming self-defense and justifiable homicide under the Â‘stand your groundÂ’ law.
Keown brought forth nine witnesses for the prosecution in addition to the video surveillance. Senior Inspector Louis Cordova of the Florida Inspector GeneralÂ’s Office testified to having viewed the surveillance footage and collecting the evidence at the scene, including the murder weapon. Cordova advised the court that all evidence had been handed over to FDLE Special Agent Jeffrey Anderson.
The state’s next witness was Assistant Warden Charles Ricks who was the Chief Security Officer at Holmes CI at the time of the murder. Ricks testified to seeing Strong pull a weapon out of his waistline in the video footage.
Strong attempted to cast doubt on the jury with what Ricks saw in the video by asking Ricks how he knew it was a weapon he pulled out and not just him pulling up his pants.
Â“With 18 years of experience in the Department of Corrections, I have reviewed many hours of footage in that time,Â” Ricks said. Â“I am confident that you pulled a weapon out of your pants and used it to hurt Parker.Â”
Strong testified on his own behalf saying that Parker was trying to kill him and his Â“brotherÂ” Johnson, but he was not going to allow that to happen.
Â“It was sad, but I knew I wasnÂ’t going to die that day,Â” Strong said. Â“I got children to go home to. I wasnÂ’t going to let Johnson die either.Â”
In the stateÂ’s closing argument, Keown spoke of the indifference shown by Strong for ParkerÂ’s life. Strong responded by saying the evidence the state presented was their perception of the incident.
Â“The state gave you their opinion on the events,Â” Strong said to the jury. Â“Strong is the only person who testified that was there when the incident happened. It is up to you to decide if he was telling the truth or not.Â”
The jury viewed the surveillance footage at least a dozen times over two days. Strong can be seen swinging a weapon at Parker after it appeared Strong removed an object from his pants. Parker then tried to flee and run up the stairs with Strong and Johnson on his heels.
The unarmed Parker tripped and fell as he ascended the stairs allowing Strong and Johnson to catch up where they stood over him. The footage showed StrongÂ’s hands move up and down in a stabbing motion, then pause and continue stabbing Parker. At the end, Strong and Johnson walked away and left Parker lying on the stairs not moving.
Parker was transported to Doctors Memorial Hospital with multiple stab wounds to his upper torso and pronounced dead.
After closing arguments jurors took just over 90 minutes for deliberation and came back with a guilty verdict for Strong. Roberts promptly delivered a life sentence and added that he would recommend Strong be placed in either Hillsborough or Volusia County in order to be closer to his children.
Â“When someone flees – especially when theyÂ’re unarmed – you canÂ’t use deadly force and you canÂ’t kill an unarmed man when he is running away from you,Â” Keown said. Â“Kevin Parker may have been in prison, but he had a life to live, that he deserved to live, and that was cut short by the choice of Raymond Strong.Â”