Doty family member reflects on a young life snuffed out too soon
SEBRING - Just over a year ago, Chris Doty expected that Aaron Doty, his nephew, would be watching him and his family as they competed in the Heartland Triathlon. Chris Doty recalled Friday that about a week before the triathlon last year, he talked with Aaron and Aaron expressed interest in participating in such events in the future. That year, Chris Doty said, “he wanted to watch me.” But Aaron was never able to attend, as on June 10, 2012, he was brutally beaten at a party attended by more than a dozen people and then burned alive to cover up evidence of the crime.In honor of Aaron, Chris Doty said he and his family continued with their involvement in the triathlon held the weekend of Aaron’s burial. “We felt like that was what we needed to do,” Chris Doty said. “It was very hard,” he added, knowing that Aaron would not be a spectator cheering him on during the triathlon. As it turned out, during the past year, it’s been very hard in many ways for Chris Doty and his family, and for the community. Many people wear shirts with the message, “Justice for Aaron Doty” and some have campaigned for a law that would impose criminal penalties on those who fail to report a crime in a timely manner. Even though it’s been a year since the crime and the court process continues, Chris Doty said he and other family members believe that there will be justice for Aaron Doty. The family believes that the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office and the State Attorney’s Office are “committed to seeing this through to the end” and that the accused are held accountable,” he said. They believe that vengeance is not the motivating factor, but instead justice, he said. The family accepts that with all the suspects, all the witnesses, all the court hearings and all the depositions needed, “that it is not going to be a quick process,” he said. Speaking for himself, Chris Doty said that at the end of the day he doesn’t favor the death penalty for the primary suspects, Jonathan Ray Rodriguez, 22, and Kenneth Felipe, 19 – other suspects are Adriana Rodriguez, Nicole Hebert, Travis Makris and Giovanni Burgos - because of his faith and his Christian beliefs. But he answers, “yes,” to the question he poses as to “are there moments in a dark part of my mind where I do think about that (them getting the death penalty,” he said. Doty said the family believes that all five suspects should be held accountable regardless of whether they participated in the killing, or helped the primary suspects in some way. They also understand, he said, that the prosecution may need the cooperation of some of the other suspects to put forth the strongest case against Rodriguez and Felipe and “we’re going to have to accept that a part of the process.” He was referring to possible plea deals. What’s much harder for Chris Doty, the principal at Hill-Gustat Middle School, to accept is that he knew all six of the suspects through being a principal and a coach and tried to steer them in the right direction. Yet none of them, as well as most of the others at the party, made any effort to help his nephew, he said. At the party, “nobody called; nobody said a word,” and it was more than 24 hours before law enforcement was notified, he said. Some even stepped over Aaron, Doty added. “I will tell you I was disappointed (in those who he tired to help as student),” he said. But then he adds that disappointed is too weak a term. “Shaken to the core of my beliefs” better describes it, he said. That’s in part what has led him and other family members to support the idea of a law that would hold people responsible if they don’t report crimes. The question, he said, is whether such a law can be crafted that would hold people responsible and also be enforceable. Doty rejects the idea that those who report a crime are snitches. “People call it snitching,” he said. “I call it being a responsible citizen.” He said he coached Rodriguez and that had heard Rodriguez had problems making good choices. He said he tried to steer him in a better direction and helped him with weightlifting. Rodriguez was always respectful to him, he said. He said that Felipe was a student at Hill-Gustat and that he had many conversations with Felipe, who also had problems making the right decisions. At a young age, he said, youth like Felipe often have wrong ideas because of a lack of wisdom and maturity. Adults have the job of teaching the youth a better direction in life, he said. He said he has taught his children not to act wrongly in light of them being in class with some of the partygoers who didn’t do anything to help Aaron. Aaron was continuing in a good direction in life, his uncle said. A native of Highlands County, Aaron was educated in Highlands County and was learning to be a mechanic at the time of his death, Chris Doty said. Aaron Doty loved sports, fishing, hunting and anything outdoors, he said. People remember Aaron Doty for his smile, his uncle said. “It would lighten up the room. His laugh was infectious.” Solid was “his commitment to his family and his love of his family,” Chris Doty said of his nephew.