SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla. (WKRG) — A man was beaten to death after a husband found out a man was sleeping with his wife. The wife’s daughters were asked to help clean up the scene. This is the story of Gary Lawrence.
WKRG News 5 is looking back at the crimes that shocked the Gulf Coast. Gary Lawrence’s story is the twenty-first in the series.
Gary and Brenda Lawrence were married for a short time before separating in 1994. Brenda moved out with her two daughters, Kimberly and Stephanie Pitts, and another man moved in – Michael Finken. Stephanie’s friend Rachel also lived with the Pitts and Finken.
It was July 28, 1994, when Gary and Michael drove Brenda to work before going to a friend’s home to drink some beers. Gary and Michael would also go pick Brenda up from work at the end of the day before going back to their friend’s home to drink more.
Later that night, the three returned back to Brenda’s apartment, which is where Gary and Michael argued. Gary hit Michael when he learned that Michael had been having a sexual relationship with Brenda. Gary and Michael seemed to resolve their issues and Michael ended up falling asleep on the couch.
According to court documents, Gary and Brenda talked and Brenda went around the apartment grabbing weapons, which included a baseball bat and a pipe. The couple told Brenda’s daughters they were going to “knock off Mike.” Gary told Kimberly she needed to stay in her bedroom no matter what she heard.
Later in the trial, Brenda’s daughters and Stephanie’s friend said they heard what sounded like pounding and Michael saying, “stop it, if you stop, I’ll leave.” The pounding eventually stopped and the girls were told they had to help clean up.
Kimberly told the jurors that she noticed a lot of Michael’s face on the right side was missing and his chin was “knocked over to his ear.” Kimberly also said her mother went to the kitchen before coming back and making stabbing motions toward Michael’s body. Rachel said there was no skin left on Michael’s face and part of his nose was missing.
Brenda then told the girls they needed to ask another man, Chris Wetherbee, for help. He came over to the home and found Michael’s head caved in, blood everywhere and his eyeball protruding with a mop handle shoved down his throat. Gary took the mop handle out of Michael’s throat and Michael died.
Gary told Wetherbee that he had beaten Michael with a pipe until it bent and then he beat Michael with a baseball bat. Gary and Brenda then took money out of Michael’s pocket before wrapping his body in a shower curtain and putting him in his own car. Gary then drove to a secluded area and set Michael’s body on fire. Gary returned home and he and Brenda then danced.
Gary was arrested and confessed to the murder. He told officers he had beaten Michael because he had been sleeping with Brenda. Gary was charged with first-degree murder, robbery, grand theft of a motor vehicle and conspiracy to commit murder.
During the trial, the medical examiner testified that Michael had died from blunt force trauma to the head and possible asphyxia. The medical examiner also said Michael’s blood alcohol level was very high and after only one or two hits he could have passed out. The jury voted nine-three to recommend the death penalty and the judge agreed. Gary has been on the state of Florida’s death row since May 5, 1995.