Polk deputies charge five men in gruesome murder case

Anthony Johnson and Brian Johnson, Jr., photos via Polk County Sheriff's Office

WINTER HAVEN, Fla (WFLA) – Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Wednesday detailed the brutal January murder of a Lakeland man. Robert Banks’ body was found in the woods in Sumter County. A medical examiner’s report determined he’d been beaten to death before his body was dumped and burned.

Deputies arrested three brothers, their father and a friend in connection with the killing. Anthony, Nathan and Brian Johnson, and friend Michael Gunn face first-degree murder charges. Brian Johnson Sr., is facing an accessory charge, accused of helping his sons dispose of the body in Sumter County.

Brian Johnson Sr., photo via Polk County Sheriff's Office
Brian Johnson Sr., photo via Polk County Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff Judd said the men invited Banks over after a female they knew told them he raped her.

“They proceeded to beat Robert viciously,” Judd said. “They kicked him, strangled him with an electrical cord. They beat him with a pipe. They beat them with their fists. They beat him with sticks. After they beat him to death, they wrapped him up and called their father and said, ‘We’ve killed this guy.'”

Polk deputies spent weeks working with Lakeland police officers and Sumter deputies to determine who was responsible for Banks’ death. Judd said one of the men turned himself in and the others are cooperating with the investigation.

The men even took pictures of Banks’ lifeless body with their cell phones. “I think, in their mind, somehow they justified this,” Judd said. “In our mind, it’s not justified. In the law, the reading of the law, it’s not justified.”

Michael Gunn and Nathan Johnson, photos via Polk County Sheriff's Office
Michael Gunn and Nathan Johnson, photos via Polk County Sheriff’s Office

The sheriff said detectives are working on recovering the pictures from those cell phones. He wasn’t sure if they were iPhones but issued a warning for anyone, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, that they better cooperate with Judd’s demands.

“The first time we do have trouble getting into a cell phone, we’re going to seek a court order (against) Apple, and if they deny us, I’m going to go lock the CEO of Apple up,” Judd said. “Because you can’t have a business plan that violates the law.”

The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are possible.  Detectives are still working to determine if the sexual assault that prompted the attack did, in fact, happen.

 

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