Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Dade
County, Case 74-5978
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable
Resentencing Judge: The
Honorable Rodolfo Sorondo
Trial Attorney: James Mathews –
Attorney, Direct Appeal:
William J. Hutchinson – Private
Attorney, Direct Appeal
(Resentencing): Louis Campbell – Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Collateral Appeals:
D. Todd Doss – Pro Bono
Date of Offense: 07/17/74
Date of Sentence: 04/21/75
Date of Resentencing: 03/12/96
Circumstances of the Offense:
On 07/17/74 the victim, Sydney
Gans, arrived at his place of business and parked his automobile. The
defendant Thomas Knight, a former employee, who was carrying an
automatic rifle, approached him.
Knight then ordered Mr. Gans to get
back into the vehicle and drive to his residence and pick up his wife,
Lillian Gans. Once Mrs. Gans was in the vehicle Knight ordered Mr. Gans
to drive to his bank in order to obtain $50,000.
Mr. Gans did as
instructed and entered the bank. While inside the bank Mr. Gans
notified the bank president of the abduction, and the police and FBI
were alerted. Mr. Gans then returned to his wife and their car with the
The defendant then ordered Mrs. Gans to drive the car in an
evasive route toward South Dade County. The FBI and local law
enforcement were in pursuit, and had remained undetected, however they
briefly lost sight of the vehicle.
The defendant ordered the couple to
stop the vehicle in a remote area and then shot both victims in the back
of the head at close range.
The defendant fled the scene, but was
apprehended shortly thereafter. Knight attempted to hide from the
police by burying himself in the dirt and weeds of a heavily wooded
area. Police noticed bloodstains on the defendant’s pants and discovered
the automatic rifle and $50,000 hidden underneath him.
On 09/19/74, while awaiting his
trial, the defendant along with ten inmates escaped from the Dade County
Jail. The defendant was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List and an
extensive manhunt ensued.
While on escape status the
defendant allegedly committed a murder and armed robbery in Cordele,
Georgia. (Crisp County)
The following circumstances were
received from the Crisp County Authorities: Knight and another subject
committed an Armed Robbery, Murder and Aggravated Battery.
they both entered a liquor store and asked for a bottle. As the clerk
retrieved the bottle, he was told to hand over the money. The defendant
and codefendant then demanded both clerks’ wallets and started shooting.
Mr. William Culpepper was shot three times and was killed; Mr. A.V.
Norton was shot twice. The defendant and codefendant fled taking
FBI agents arrested the subject in New Smyrna Beach, FL on
12/31/74. At the time of his arrest the subject was in possession of a
sawed-off shotgun, a .38 caliber revolver and a 9mm automatic. These
weapons were reported stolen from Titusville, FL.
Previous reports indicate that
Georgia authorities did not prosecute the subject due to his Florida
death sentence. The subject’s codefendant was charged with only the
Aggravated Battery charge.
Knight was arrested and stood trial for the fatal stabbing of a prison
guard while he was incarcerated on death row (CC# 80-341CF); the murder
occurred on 10/12/80. Knight was convicted and sentenced to death for
this offense on 01/20/83
Knight’s new sentencing date in 1996 is the starting point for all
subsequent appeals, although he was initially sentenced over 25 years
There have been mental health issues throughout this case most of which
were presented to the trial court. Numerous mental health experts have
testified on Knight’s behalf, claiming that he has longstanding mental
health problems that may include schizophrenia.
Experts for the State
determined that Knight did, in fact, have a personality disorder but was
a “malingerer” and not schizophrenic. Knight was determined competent
to stand trial. There has not been any executive intervention relating
to Knight’s alleged mental illness.
08/30/74 - Defendant
arraigned, entered a plea of not guilty.
09/19/74 - Prior to
trial, defendant escaped from jail.
12/31/75 - Defendant
captured and returned to jail.
01/06/75 - Public
Defender dismissed due to conflict, Court appointed Special Counsel
04/01/75 - Plea of Not
Guilty by Reason of Insanity entered.
04/19/75 - Defendant found guilty by the trial
jury of two counts of First-Degree Murder, as charged in the indictment.
Upon advisory sentencing the Jury, by a majority, recommended the death
04/21/75 - Defendant was
sentenced as followed:
Count I: First-Degree Murder (Lillian Gans)
Count II: First-Degree Murder (Sydney Gans) –
01/18/96 - Order to
return defendant for resentencing.
02/01/96 - Hearing held
regarding defendant’s competency. Court found defendant
competent to proceed.
02/08/96 - Upon advisory sentencing, the jury
recommended death sentence by a vote of 9-3
03/12/96 - Resentenced as
Count I: First-Degree Murder
(Lillian Gans) – Death
Count II: First-Degree Murder
(Sydney Gans) – Death
05/20/75, Knight filed a Direct Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Among several issues raised, Knight claimed
the trial court erred in the denial of his challenge for cause as to the
impartiality of a juror.
Second, Knight claimed the trial court erred
in denying his motion for additional peremptory challenges because of
pervasive pre-trial publicity.
Third, Knight alleged the trail court
erred in allowing the State to prosecute the charges under a theory of
felony murder when the indictment charged premeditated murder to be
absolutely contrary to established precedent.
Fourth, Knight claimed
the introduction of the testimony of Mr. Gill (the bank president), to
the effect that Mr. Gans (the victim) had told him that he had been
kidnapped and his wife was being held for $50,000 ransom and describing
what had occurred thus far, into evidence was error as it was not within
the res gestae of the crime charged.
Finally, he claimed the trial
court erred in denying his motion for change of venue. Having carefully
evaluated all other points raised on appeal by appellant, the Court
found none of them meritorious as to constitute reversible error.
Furthermore, the allegations of the indictment were sufficient to charge
Knight with First-Degree murder.
On 09/30/76, the Court affirmed Knight’s convictions and sentence.
Knight filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the Florida Supreme
Court on 01/22/80. On 02/06/80, the Court transferred the petition to
the trial court and ordered that it be treated as a 3.850 Motion for
Post Conviction Relief.
02/12/80, the trial court received and reviewed the motion. On
08/15/80, the trial court dismissed the motion, determined it was
properly filed originally as a Habeas Petition, and requested that it be
properly filed to the Florida Supreme Court.
10/01/80, Knight filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the
Florida Supreme Court, who acknowledged the trial court was correct in
determining the appeal should be processed as a Habeas Petition.
However, the Court denied the Petition on 02/24/81.
02/20/81, Knight filed a 3.850 Motion to the Circuit Court, which was
denied on 08/25/081. Knight filed a 3.850 Appeal to the Florida Supreme
Court on 11/03/81. The Court affirmed the trial court’s denial of the
3.850 Motion on 12/16/82. The rehearing was denied on 03/02/83. The
mandate was issued on 04/11/83.
02/24/81, Knight filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the
United States District Court, Southern District. The Court held the
Petition and granted a Stay of Execution on 02/26/81. The Court
retained jurisdiction over the petition and ordered Knight to exhaust
his appeals in State court. The Petition was dismissed on 06/27/86.
06/09/83, Knight filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United
States Supreme Court, which was denied on 10/06/83.
07/30/86, Knight filed a Habeas Appeal to the United States Court of
Appeals, 11th Circuit. On 09/06/89, the Court remanded the
case to the trial court for resentencing based on a Hitchcock
error, which requires the courts to consider non-statutory, as well as
statutory mitigating evidence proffered by a capital defendant. This
decision was made prior to the Supreme Court’s decision in Hitchcock,
and was originally made in accordance with Lockett.
Knight filed a Direct Appeal after resentencing to the Florida Supreme
Court on 04/22/96. On 11/112/98, the Court affirmed the conviction and
sentence. The rehearing was denied on 03/11/99.
06/09/99, Knight filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United
States Supreme Court, which was denied on 11/08/99.
11/07/00, Knight filed a 3.850 Motion to the Circuit Court, which was
denied on 01/15/03.
04/08/03, Knight filed a 3.850 Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Upon careful review of Knight’s motion, the Court found no error in the
Circuit Court’s determination that denial was appropriate on each claim
made by Knight. On 11/03/05, the Court affirmed the Circuit Court’s
denial of the 3.850 Motion because Knight’s claims are either
procedurally barred, conclusively refuted by the record, facially or
legally insufficient as alleged, or without merit as a matter of law.
On 02/24/06, the rehearing was denied. The mandate was issued on
07/12/04, Knight filed a Petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus to the
Florida Supreme Court. The petition was denied on 11/03/05 because
Knight raised the same issues that were raised in his 3.850 Appeal,
which cannot be relitigated in the Habeas Petition. On 02/24/06, the
rehearing was denied. The mandate was issued on 03/13/06.