Summary of Offense:
On July 17, 1974, 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 money. 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.
Knight was re-sentenced to death in Miami-Dade County on March 12, 1996.
On September 19, 1974, 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.
On October 21, 1974, 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 co-defendant fled taking $641.00. FBI agents arrested the subject in New Smyrna Beach, Florida on December 31, 1974. 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, Florida.
Previous reports indicate that Georgia authorities did not prosecute the subject due to his Florida death sentence. The subject’s co-defendant 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 October 12, 1980. Knight was convicted and sentenced to death in Bradford County for this offense on January 20, 1983.
Knight’s new sentencing date in 1996 is the starting point for all subsequent appeals, although he was initially sentenced over 25 years ago.
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.