Joey Ragusa: Crackhead Convicted of Burning Gay Friend, Jimmy Garrison, to Death

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Joey Ragusa - BND.COM
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Was it a drug-induced crime or a hate crime?

Over the past week a Madison County jury heard allegations supporting both motives, though in the end it didn't matter what prompted Joey Ragusa to set fire to his friend Jimmy Garrison.

All that mattered was whether or not the jury considered Ragusa guilty, and yesterday they delivered their verdict, convicting 45-year-old from South Roxana of first-degree murder.

Among the ghastly details revealed during the trial were allegations that Ragusa often mistreated his long-time acquaintance Garrison for being gay and told cell mates that his friend's sexuality partially motivated him to set Garrison afire.

Garrison, 34, died in December 2004 -- seven weeks after Ragusa doused him with gasoline and set him on fire.

Testifying against Ragusa was an accomplice in the crime, Benjamin Stiff, who placed Ragusa with Garrison just moments before the fire. The two men were supposedly conducting a drug transaction at Garrison's home just before the burning.

Though suffering burns to 75 percent of his body, Garrison was able to walk a block away to his boyfriend's home. Police recalled finding him covered in pus-filled blisters and screaming in pain.

The jury ruled that because the crime was exceptionally brutal, Ragusa could be sentenced to 75 years in prison instead of the maximum 60 years.

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