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Person of interest charged in Cape man’s killing

By Staff | Mar 3, 2009

“Please don’t kill me. I’ve got money.”
Those were some of the last words heard from Cape Coral man Richard Gardner before he was murdered aboard his boat in Key West, according to a statement made to Monroe County detectives.
The statement was Kristena Whitmore’s. A co-suspect in Gardner’s murder, she reportedly told detectives what she heard and saw when Gardner was killed the evening of Feb. 10.
Her statement was part of a body of information leading the Monroe County State Attorney’s Office to charge 32-year-old Jonathan LeBaron, Whitmore’s boyfriend and a suspect in the killing, with the first-degree murder of Gardner.
Whitmore had not been charged as of Tuesday evening, but she is in custody in Utah, where police said they found her and LeBaron in a motel Feb. 22 with various belongings of Gardner.
State attorneys are in the process of deciding how to charge Whitmore, Monroe County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson Becky Herrin said Tuesday.
“I anticipate there will be charges,” she said.
Evidence collected at the scene of the slaying includes latent fingerprints found at various locations throughout Gardner’s boat, called the Flo To Me, a table cushion, fingerprints with blood from the area where Gardner’s body was found and items “consistent with the collection of DNA evidence,” according to LeBaron’s arrest warrant.
Whitmore reportedly told Monroe County detectives that the sequence of events leading to Gardner’s death began when she made contact with Gardner through a Craig’s List Internet posting she had made in October or November.
She had performed oral sex for Gardner in exchange for money on several occasions prior to his death, and Gardner had agreed to let her stay on his boat when she told him she did not have a place to stay, she told detectives.
Whitmore and LeBaron spent the night on Gardner’s boat Feb. 9, though Gardner did not know LeBaron was with her, Whitmore reportedly said.
Whitmore said that when Gardner arrived from Cape Coral the evening of Feb. 10, Gardner met with her on the dock and entered the cabin of his boat with her by flashlight, reports state.
LeBaron, she said, was waiting inside.
Though Whitmore said she did not see LeBaron kill Gardner, she described the sounds of “bones crunching” and “sounds of a struggle” to detectives, as well as the weight of Gardner’s body as he fell atop her.
She described later seeing blood on herself and on Gardner’s legs, as well as hearing “gurgling noises.”
Gardner had suffered a broken jaw and had several teeth knocked out, an autopsy by the Monroe County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed.
Detectives would not release additional information regarding Gardner’s injuries Tuesday, citing an ongoing investigation.
LeBaron and Whitmore cleaned up, turned on the air conditioning in the boat and left the scene in Gardner’s Mercury Marquis, Whitmore reportedly said.
She said LeBaron threw a switchblade knife, a rubber mallet and Gardner’s cell phone off a bridge on U.S. Highway 1 while still in the Key West area.
Monroe County investigators are not saying if the knife or mallet are related to fatal injuries suffered by Gardner.
It is possible they may not have enough information to search for the weapons and cell phone due to the large number of areas where the highway crosses over water, Herrin said.
It is not clear whether investigators will conduct a search for the items, she said.
Gardner’s body was found Feb. 13, three days after his alleged murder, during a well-being check by law enforcement officers where the boat was docked at King’s Pointe Marina on Stock Island.
LeBaron and Whitmore were pulled over in Gardner’s car Feb. 12, a day prior, by Memphis police officer Jason Moore. Moore subsequently released them after they told him that they had been beat up and mugged in Ocala, Fla., and that the car belonged to their grandmother.
Lebaron had a black eye, and Whitmore had suffered a swollen lip, injuries suffered during the fatal struggle with Gardner, Whitmore later told detectives.
The couple ditched Gardner’s car in Memphis, later recovered by police, and headed to Midvale, Utah, where they stayed at a motel for several days before Midvale police caught up with them.
Whitmore was charged with pawning Gardner’s laptop with a false identification, and LeBaron was additionally charged with grand theft auto.
LeBaron and Whitmore remained in custody in Salt Lake City on Tuesday evening, and LeBaron will be brought back to Monroe County on the first-degree murder charge, Herrin said.
The State Attorney’s Office determined LeBaron’s alleged killing of Gardner to be premeditated based upon the facts of the case, she said.