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Suspects in Highlands beating death arrested in Orlando

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:39 PM
SEBRING -

The manhunt for the two suspects charged in the murder of 20-year-old Aaron Doty ended at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

The U.S. Marshal's Service Task-Force, operating out of Orlando, apprehended Jonathan Ray Rodriquez, 22, and Kenneth Edwards Felipe Jr.,19, who had been on the run since arrest warrants were issued for them Monday afternoon.

Highlands County Sheriff's Office's Chief Deputy Mark Schrader said the U.S. Marshals had been assisting local detectives in locating the suspects for the last two days.

"Although two suspects have been arrested, the investigation is still ongoing," he added in a news release.

The two were scheduled to be booked into the Orange County Jail. Details on when they will be transported to Highlands County were not immediately available.

Doty's former classmates remembered him as a quiet young man.

"He was always a gentleman to me," said Rachel Smit. "Always nice, always polite. I couldn't see him try hurting anyone."

There was a search party going on and I was a part of it and when they were getting our names, we had found out that he was dead," said Brittani Stopko.

The two men charged in Doty's murder repeatedly struck him during a fight, left him outside their home while he was unconscious, then took his body to a secluded area in Sun 'n Lake, burning it to destroy evidence, investigators allege in an arrest affidavit filed Tuesday in the Highlands County Courthouse.

Doty, Rodriguez and Felipe were acquaintances, and Doty had stopped at their home, 5504 Granada Blvd., early Sunday morning, after going to several other parties during the night, the affidavit states.

Between 5 and 6 a.m., Rodriguez and Felipe confronted Doty, who all had been drinking through the night, about "causing problems at the party and was being told to leave," the affidavit states.

Rodriguez was seen yelling at Doty and trying to get him to fight, investigators say.

"While doing this, Jonathan and Kenneth struck Aaron in his face and head, causing him to fall to the floor unconscious. While on the floor, both Kenneth and Jonathan continued to hit Aaron," the affidavit states.

Others pulled away Rodriguez and Felipe, who then dragged Doty by his feet and laid him outside the home on the concrete while he was unconscious, investigators allege.

Two juveniles, 17 and 16, tried to revive Doty, the affidavit states. Highlands Today is withholding their names because they are minors.

"They advised Aaron was breathing hard, making moaning noises, and slowly moving his head. One teen put her hand underneath Aaron's head in an attempt to wake him, but when she removed her hand, there was blood on it. She advised at this (time) was when Aaron stopped making any sounds or moving," the affidavit states.

Doty lay outside the home for an "unknown amount of time," and then was moved to the bed of a truck belonging to another man, investigators say.

Rodriguez, Felipe, and a 17-year-old, whose name is being withheld, used the truck to remove Doty from the property, the affidavit says. The three went to a gas station where Rodriguez bought gasoline. After returning to the truck, Felipe and Rodriguez left the minor on Capri Street and told him to wait for them, investigators add.

"Jonathan and Kenneth took the body of Aaron to a secluded area in the rear of Sun N Lakes in Sebring… [the minor] advised Kenneth and Jonathan took the deceased body of Aaron into the wooded area with the gasoline. [The minor] advised approximately 30 minutes later, Jonathan and Kenneth returned to retrieve [the minor] and Aaron's body was not in the truck," the affidavit adds.

Doty's body was discovered at 1:30 p.m. Monday, almost 24 hours after his family reported him missing to authorities.

No 911 calls were made at or after the party, the sheriff's office adds. According to the affidavit, investigators interviewed 10 witnesses, five of whom are minors.

"Everybody at the party that was seeing Aaron get hit, even the first hit, to me, is just as guilty as the person, people that were hitting him," said Doty family friend Sharon Spillane.

"Apparently there were a lot of people at the party, and how could somebody do that to somebody?" asked former schoolmate Brooke Bateman.

Rodriguez and Felipe are being charged with second-degree homicide, tampering with or fabricating physical evidence and abuse of a dead body.

According to Highlands County Jail records, both Rodriguez and Felipe were recently charged with felonies.

Felipe, who was released from jail in April, had been charged with battery causing bodily harm in February, along with charges ranging from possession and use of drug equipment, disorderly conduct in a public place, possession of a controlled substance without a prescription, burglary with assault or battery and possession of marijuana the same month.

Earlier in the year, he faced charges of disorderly conduct and resisting an officer, jail records show.

Rodriguez had been charged with probation violation in 2011, grand theft and burglary of an unoccupied dwelling in 2010, along with burglary of a conveyance, larceny and trespassing in 2009, records show.

Sheriff's office spokeswoman Nell Hays said Tuesday authorities are following leads on their whereabouts. Sheriff's deputies have had no contact with the two since the search and investigation began.

Anyone with information is requested to call the Highlands County Sheriff's Office Criminal Investigations Unit at (863) 402-7250.

Anyone who wants to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward is asked to call Heartland Crime Stoppers at (800) 226-TIPS (8477), or to go to www.heartlandcrimestoppers.com


News Channel 8 reporter Peter Bernard contributed to this report. pagarwal@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5831

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