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LAW CENTER

Florida teens deny attacks on homeless

Plead not guilty to first-degree murder, attempted murder

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The January 12 attack on Jacques Pierre was captured on surveillance camera videotape. Pierre survived.

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Crime, Law and Justice

FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- Three Florida teenagers pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of first-degree murder in connection with the beating death of a homeless man in January.

The teens also entered not guilty pleas in Broward County Court to attempted murder charges stemming from the beatings of two other homeless men the same night in what authorities suspect was a string of attacks.

Fort Lauderdale police told CNN Wednesday that they're investigating five other similar beatings and believe one or more of the defendants could be involved in some of those attacks.

Earlier this month, a grand jury indicted William Ammons, 18, Brian Hooks, 18, and Thomas Daugherty, 17. (Full story)

The three teens appeared in court Wednesday wearing orange jail jumpsuits. Their lawyers entered the pleas.

Prosecutors have not yet said whether they will seek the death penalty for Ammons and Hooks, but Daugherty faces a sentence of life in prison if convicted because of his age.

Lawyers for Ammons said they believe their client wasn't present when Norris Gaynor, 45, was beaten to death.

"We believe the evidence will bear out that as far as Mr. Gaynor is concerned, that we think that Billy may very well not have been at the location where Mr. Gaynor was unfortunately killed," said attorney Michael Rothschild.

Another Ammons attorney, George Reres, said he's worried about his client's "emotional and psychological well-being right now."

His concern focuses on "whether there are underlying emotional issues that would put a young person in his situation up to doing something like this," Reres added.

Hooks' lawyer, Jeremy Kroll, told reporters after the hearing that the time in detention has been "a period of great reflection" for his client and "he's very obviously disturbed by what happened."

An affidavit in the case quoted a witness who said Hooks and Daugherty, each holding a baseball bat, approached Gaynor as he slept on a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, park bench the night of January 12.

The witness said that Daugherty, without provocation, struck the victim with the bat, leaving Gaynor's head bloody, according to the affidavit.

Hooks also was holding a bat but delivered no blows, the witness said.

An attack on another homeless man, Jacques Pierre, was captured on surveillance camera videotape near the Florida Atlantic University.

The tape showed two men holding baseball bats chasing Pierre down. One of the men was seen beating Pierre with the bat before running off.

The airing of the video on local television stations prompted calls from "scores of people" who identified the two attackers seen in the tape, according to a police report.

CNN's John Zarrella and Rich Phillips contributed to this report.

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