DADE CITY — Robert Green was facing decades of prison time when he went to trial last week on charges that he broke into a convenience store, and in the getaway, shot a Pasco County deputy.
A jury spared him the worst, acquitting him of attempted murder and convicting him only of burglary.
Green, 18, came to court Friday to learn his fate. A young man in the back of the room was watching.
He was 15. He had been in this same courtroom, in front of this same judge just a day earlier. On house arrest and juvenile probation for petty theft, he had picked up a disorderly conduct charge over a fight at school.
Then he was accused of discharging a fire extinguisher at that school.
On Thursday, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa lectured the boy about making better choices and picking better friends. Just a few hours later, the teen allegedly sneaked out of his house and got into mischief.
New charges: loitering and prowling and possession of marijuana.
There wasn't much the judge could do by way of punishment at this preliminary hearing. So he made him stay and watch what happened to Green.
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On Aug. 7, 2008, authorities said, Green, then just 15, and his friend Antonio Murray sneaked into Sam's Quick Mart in Lacoochee through an air-conditioning duct. The store alarm went off, and deputies responded. Deputy Jeff Chandler was walking around the building when a bullet struck his chest.
The teens had fired at a metal shutter covering the front of the building, hoping to create a way out. They couldn't see Chandler outside. The bullet was slowed by a business card holder in the deputy's shirt pocket and his bullet-resistant vest. He was unhurt.
But by law, the burglars could be guilty of attempted murder, even though no one could say which one of them fired the bullet that hit Chandler and even though they showed no intent to harm anyone.
Murray, then 16, and Green were arrested within days. Green, in an interview with a sheriff's detective, admitted breaking into the store and shooting the gun.
He talked about how easy it was to get inside and about the jewelry and cell phones they took.
Near the end, he said, "I just want to do my time and get out."
Murray pleaded to the charges earlier this year and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
But Green went to trial, and the jury's verdict, which included a finding that he did not possess a weapon during the burglary, meant he faced a maximum of five years in prison.
With no prior record, state guidelines said he should get no prison time at all.
But Siracusa told him this case "wasn't a normal burglary." Time served didn't seem like enough.
He sentenced Green to four years in prison. With credit for the more than two years he spent in jail awaiting trial, he will serve less than half that time. After prison, he'll do four years of probation.
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Then the judge put down his paperwork and spoke on a different level to Green — once an underage burglar who is now an adult felon.
He told Green how frustrating it is to see young people in front of him in trouble, again and again.
"Juveniles don't understand they can go to real prison," the judge said.
He mentioned the teen sitting in the audience next to his mother.
So, he asked Green, "What would you tell him?"
Green, who has said little through all his court hearings, stood up a little taller and faced the back of the room.
His voice was strong:
"I'd say straighten up, man. This ain't where it's at. This ain't where it's at."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.