“We’ve had to call the police because he just gets belligerent. He just gets belligerent,” Bonnie Jean Gore said, speaking of her son Lucas in the present tense, though he’s been dead nine months. His father, Bobby Gore, 74, shot him at their home in Flagler Beach last April, in front of Bonnie Jean.
Bonnie Jean was in the witness box in a Flagler County courtroom this afternoon, testifying in her husband’s sentencing. Bobby sat a few feet from her, at the defendant’s table. Their children and family friends made up the audience, along with a detective and a county commissioner.
“Belligerent” was an understatement. Lucas, who was 31, had been drinking since his teen years and had often terrorized his family–attacking his brother Jonathan in his bed, in Jonathan’s home, to the point that Jonathan had to pull a gun on Lucas to defend himself.
There’d been other instances where Lucas–usually called Luke by his family–had “no regard for safety or other people,” as Jonathan recalled in testimony this afternoon, once purposefully yanking Jonathan’s steering wheel as the two drove at 80 mph on I-95, crashing the car against a guard rail and requiring a trip to the ER. (Neither was hurt.) Or the way Luke himself pulled guns, shot up the family house in Flagler Beach, shot at cars, taunted others, and most of all, the way he “stalked” his father Bobby, in his mother’s words, harassing him, belittling him, humiliating him, threatening him, especially after Bobby’s stroke in 2016. When Bobby was in the ICU after that stroke, Luke went out drinking, his step-sister said.
He was “unbearable,” Bobby Jean said of the way her son behaved toward her husband, “calling him names, calling him stupid, telling him he could take him out at anytime, telling him he was the man of the house now, that Bob was of no authority to him anymore.”
“Did he ever tell Bobby his father that he was going to take him out?” Bobby Gore’s defense lawyer asked her.
“Yes,” Gore replied.
“How many times?”
“That day, at least three,” she said.
That day was April 29, 2017. Luke Gore, 31, had been “stalking” his father to the point that Bonnie Jean had to tell Bobby to lock himself up in his bedroom, rest on the bed and watch TV. It didn’t work. Luke “pounded on the door and said, dad, if you don’t open this door, I’m going to kick it in.” Evidence of broken doors around the house, like the bullet holes in walls, spoke of Luke’s violent temper, fueled as it was by heavy drinking.
Lucas’s blood-alcohol level would later be determined to have been .38 at the time of his death. “You have to be practiced to be able to get it that high, don’t you?” Circuit Judge Dennis Craig said. The legal limit to drive is 0.08. For most people, 0.38 is alcohol poisoning territory.
Bobby Jean and Bobby finally decided to go to Poor Walt’s, the bar down the street from their home at 1002 South Daytona Avenue, just to get away from him. He followed them there. Followed them home. Then found himself sitting with his mother on the back porch around midnight as she was telling him: enough. You have to move out.
Bobby Jean doesn’t know where Bobby was at that point, only that Luke was refusing to accept his mother’s terms, as he had refused before.
“When I saw Bob next,” Bobby Jean said, “I heard a loud band, Luke and I both turned our head, then I saw a flash and heard another bang, and Luke slumped over. And it was Bob hanging at the door.” With a gun. He had shot his son twice.
This afternoon, and for the first time since that shooting around midnight last April, Bobby Gore was, in a manner of speaking, reunited with his family for the first time, minus Luke, and with the barrier of a wood-paneled divider between the audience portion of the courtroom, where his family sat, and the defendant’s table, where he sat in white and orange striped overalls, hands and feet shackled, holding a hearing device to better hear the proceedings of his own sentencing hearing.
Bobby Gore had pleaded guilty to manslaughter with a firearm, exposing him to eight to 15 years in prison. The question was what sentence Circuit Judge Dennis Craig would impose. He could go hard. He could go lenient.
Assistant State Prosecutor Mark Johnson was not making the sort of serrated arguments prosecutors make when they want a punishment harshed up. Rather, he was more or less going through the motions of asking witnesses–members of Gore’s family–a few questions, more it seemed for formality’s sake than because he was forging a strategy. Even after a psychologist’s testimony for the defense, Johnson only sought to re-establish the succession of events that had led to the shooting, rather than question anything the psychologist had concluded. While he did briefly question the consistency of Bobby Jean’s testimony today, Johnson seemed willing to give the defense leeway.
The defense attorney was Ray Warren, the public defender’s most seasoned, most creative lawyer on homicide cases. Warren’s aim was to show that after a heart attack and two strokes, particularly the 2016 stroke, Bobby Earl Gore was no longer the intelligent, balanced man he’d been, that the last stroke had had a “severe impact upon his ability to reason,” a point he pressed and developed through a long testimony by Jacqueline Olander, the psychologist and expert witness he brought on. That, combined with the way Luke was “stalking” him and threatening him had exacerbated his disability to see what he used to see, to perceive information as he had before–to the point that, when he pointed that gun at his son, he had not intended to shoot him as much as scare him by firing at something else, supposedly a tree. That’s what Gore himself told a deputy soon after the shooting.
The facts undermine the theory: two shots, not one, at point-blank range, both bullets striking Lucas near the ear within inches of each other, as his son was sitting with his back to him when the first shot was fired.
But the facts also don’t alter the days, weeks and months of being terrorized by his son.
“It’s not a difficult case, factually, but it is a difficult case as we look at all the circumstances involved,” Johnson told the court in his closing argument. That’s why the prosecution extended the offer of manslaughter, he said. He did not question Lucas’s aggressive character nor the many events the family had described. Nevertheless, Johnson said, what’s also clear is that regardless of what had taken place in the time leading up to the shooting, at the time of the shooting “there as no immediate danger to him or to Mrs. Gore or anyone else in the house,” him being Bobby Gore. And he said that had this taken place when Bobby was 20 years younger, the prosecution would have asked for a trial and pressed the case of a first-degree murder.
The prosecutor asked for 15 years in prison.
Warren said that the prosecution conceded that it would not object to eight years, ether–and that the evidence he had submitted means “this really fits the classic definition of a manslaughter,” with Bobby Gore truly intending to shoot at a tree, not at Lucas.
He asked for eight years.
Before Craig pronounced sentence, he asked if anyone else in the family wanted to speak to the specifics of the sentence.
Normally at sentencing hearings, the family of the victim sits on one side of the courtroom, the family of the defendant sits on the other, and both sides do their best to either harsh up the sentence or diminish it. In this case, there was only one family, and it all sat together, a half dozen men and women, unusually sitting in the bench right behind the detective–Jorge Fuentes of the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office–who worked the case, and in front of the victim’s advocate. The family members were all were of one mind and told the judge, one after the other: they wanted mercy and understanding for Bobby Gore, whose family has forgiven him. They asked for eight years.
“A tragic, tragic thing that a very good man did. He loved his son also. He loves his son today,” Bobby Jean said of her husband in a second appearance before the judge, pleading for the lesser sentence. “We want him home as soon as we can have him home. We feel that Bob perceived an imminent danger at the time of this because he had been badgered all day.” Lucas’s brothers also spoke, Jonathan describing him as “his best friend in the world” but also as a troubled soul, and describing his father as a changed man since the stroke–a man who would not have committed the act had he been healthier.
That left Craig, who takes victims’ and families’ statements to heart, having to balance the demands of the law with the pleas of the defense and of Gore’s family–both Lucas Gore and Bobby Gore. The judge had to rule in a way that also spoke for Luke, and reflected all he’d heard this afternoon.
And it was precisely what the various family members had said that shaped his verdict, which he framed, in part, in an admonition against the family, delivering a remarkable, 13-minute preamble to the sentence, and describing a dysfunctional family too ready to resolve its issues with firearms, a victim–Lucas–whose alcoholism had been evident but seemingly never addressed by the family, and facts that belied the claim that Gore had taken out the gun just to scare his son.
“Luke had a very serious substance abuse issue,” Craig said, “And I didn’t hear anything about how it was addressed in any form or fashion throughout his entire life. I heard that he started drinking when he was a teenager. He was 31 at the time of his death. I heard about all kinds of violent acts that Luke engaged in. Every violent act was an opportunity to seek some kind of redress to the substance abuse issue that Luke had.”
The judge continued: “And apparently the way things were addressed in the family, and the picture that was painted that was almost a family culture, that we addressed our issues with firearms. Luke wasn’t the only one. Mr. Gore, the defendant here wasn’t the only one. A brother mentioned a couple of different events where a firearm was used, and apparently that’s how issues were resolved in the Gore family. Certainly, alcohol and guns don’t mix. You know, the seeds to something like this happening were sown long before Mr. Gore had any issues with his health, had any issues with his brain functioning. These seeds were sown a long time ago.”
Gore, he said, was seeking to convince himself rather than the court that he had not intended to shoot at his son. “And one last point that I wanted to make,” Craig said. “I know the family wants their husband, their father, their father-in-law, stepfather, that they would like to have him out as soon as possible. But there’s also consideration that we need to consider and that is,. There needs to be, for purposes of the community, for purposes of the law, there needs to be consequences to your actions.”
Gore himself did not react to the sentence, except to sincerely thank the judge (there was no hint of sarcasm in his voice), and shake hands with Warren, his attorney, asking him if they would speak again soon. Absent a n unlikely reversal of the sentence should an appeal be filed, he is not likely to see freedom again: even if he serves only 80 percent of his sentence, as is customary on non-mandatory sentences., it would be 12 years before his release, when he would be 86.
A great tragedy..and more common than anyone would like to think.
Once again our system is screwed up I don’t think this man should be kept in jail or he’s not going to get the proper treatment for his health I think his son Luke would have killed them soon or a later. Why wasn’t Luke sentenced to prison 4 firing a firearm and attacking his brother’s girlfriend and tormenting his family. Once again it comes down to there is no place for these people who need the help to go. Stewart Marchman is a joke. If you don’t have insurance or not going to get the proper help. My heart goes out to the gore family. This poor man will probably die in jail because he will not get the medical attention that he needs that I mentioned before none of us were there maybe he really did try to strike a tree but because of his stroke couldn’t hold a gun properly I’m not making an excuse for him. The come on let’s put all the cards on the table such a sad story.
Born and Raised Here says
Why didn’t this family ever triy to seek professional counseling for their family and drug abuse issues.-
Very Sad! A severely dysfunctional family attempting to justify an “accidental” murder of a family member who had been “enabled” by the very same family members for his entire life. Lesson learned – if a family member has a severe addiction, get it treated yesterday not later or when it is convenient for you. Many lives are at stake not just the affected individual.
Alcohol just ruined another family
Make our justice system great again. This man brought that young man into this world and he obviously elected to take him out. This elderly man lived his life up to this point with no intentions of killing his son, and likely had no options in meeting his ultimate fate. There are consequences for our actions, and perhaps Mr. Luke suffered the consequences himself. I think this article and the whole atmosphere of this story is missing the passion aspect. I’d bet Mr. Gore was filled with passion and rage at the moment, unable to control himself. Some people who don’t want help, can’t be helped, and alcohol is just another catalyst for violence. Question is, does Mr. Gore deserve to sit in prison for 15 years?
jesus saves our only hope in a fallen sin sick society.acts4-12
Yes, I’m all for consequences for your actions, but sentencing him to 15 years seems a bit much. Too many of these stories. Meanwhile, people who are truly a threat to society get off easier. A very sad story. Everyone loses.
Just another message that parents, whether you are elderly or not, and whether you have been abused by out of control kids, you can’t do anything to protect yourself. If parents were allowed to rear their children in the way they should go without outside intrusion maybe there wouldn’t be so many youthful members of society out of control. It is amazing that parents can’t do what law enforcement can do to the same individuals. Law enforcement shots out of control youthful people in the back and it’s ok and they are most all times cleared and never charged….so sad. This man had the right to protect his family and home. Florida isn’t known to be one of the most corrupt states in the nation of nothing……http://floridapolitics.com/archives/191150-harvard-says-florida-one-of-americas-most-politically-corrupt-states
I wish he had a court mandated, well supervised Antabuse treatment – Drink and you wouldn’t be able to function.
Judge Craig needs to chill the hell out !
Former PCD IT Guy says
Bob, you’re a good guy. What a hellish experience you’ve been through.
I hope that somehow you get out early and go on to live to be 99.
Peace to you and your wife.
Bobby passed away a couple of weeks ago.
What would really be pitifully ironic is whether Lucas suffered from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome in the first place. I smell alcohol all over this, for years and years, going back to day one.
Former Associate says
I knew the family a long time ago, when the kids were little. The dysfunction in the family was already there. I really didn’t socialize with them but saw them at functions and the kids were literally scared of Bob then, as time passes and nothing happens to improve the family environment, things get worse. Maybe Luke was a bad person, but who gave him any type of help and why was he so “mean”? I do feel sorry for Bonnie and the rest of the kids, even to some point of feeling sorry for Bob, but what he did was very wrong and I do believe in my heart it was just a matter of time before the kettle boiled over. I wasn’t there and haven’t seen them for a long time but if Luke was that bad and still living at home, call 911 and have him removed, Baker Act him, do something to show that you tried. Family members don’t pull guns on family members, it usually doesn’t end very well especially with alcohol involved.
They never mention the details of Luke loosing the family’s 2 dogs by jumping the gate that night,I was with him one hour prior to this tragdic incident,he was drunk but nervous about informing his family about the dogs getting out again ,. He offered multiple people$40 to help find the dogs. He was a very good hearted person and very hard working,Bob deserves the 15 years,he should have gotten the death penalty but he doesn’t have long, Bob is a great person but he has to pay for what he did ,Luke was like a brother to me, and I do feal horribly about what Bonnie and John are going through, I didn’t know there older brother very well but I do feel bad for him as well, may God be with them all especially lucas
I knew them relatively well. When the twins were kids, the would sit Indian style and rock back and forth like kids who are neglected/abused do. Bob was a hardass who had a huge drinking problem, as did others in the immediate family. Their house stank of urine from the animals and on many occasions I could see that the family feared him. He was prone to drunken rages that started before he even got married. I BET Luke had problems, and it’s no wonder, growing up like that. My family distanced ourselves from them eventually. I hope Bob doesn’t have a pleasant time in prison. What’s really sad is how Luke never got help and how the family is so brainwashed that they’re standing behind Bobby. Yes a stroke and an MI can cause you to forever have problems thinking rationally, but the thing is, he never did to begin with.