BROOKSVILLE — Once again, Joshua Langley finds himself bound for state prison. This time, it's a much better option for him than the alternative.
Langley, 33, avoided a trial and possible death sentence Wednesday by pleading guilty to the shooting death of a friend and alleged criminal associate three years ago. Circuit Court Judge Jack Springstead gave Langley a 20-year sentence on charges of second-degree murder with a firearm, robbery with a firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon.
"I think it was the best result possible," said Candace Hawthorne, Langley's court-appointed attorney. "The sentence reflects the appropriate justice in the case."
A native of Brooksville, Langley has been a regular on local court dockets for more than a decade. He served eight years in Florida prisons in other cases and most recently was released in November 2005.
A year later, Langley found himself in trouble again after his longtime friend Jac'Quez Jones was found shot in the head on Dec. 4, 2006, in the back yard of a home just north of Brooksville.
Langley fled and was eventually tracked down by authorities in Brunswick, Ga., between Jacksonville and Savannah, Ga.
He was charged with first-degree murder among other charges. Prosecutors said they would seek the death penalty.
But in November 2008, Springstead ruled Langley was incompetent to stand trial. At the time, Hawthorne argued that her client was "seriously ill" and taking antipsychotic drugs.
For the next year, Langley spent much of his time at the North Florida Evaluation and Treatment Center in Gainesville, where he underwent treatment to rehabilitate him to a level where he would be able to help with his defense and understand the severity of his charges.
He was found competent to stand trial on Oct. 29.
Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino said he was eager to resolve the case, given Langley's previous mental health issues and the "quality of the lay witnesses."
"No question, he's a dangerous individual," Magrino said.
Though Hawthorne was satisfied with the plea, she said Langley didn't mean to shoot Jones. During a dispute over drug deal, she said, Langley tried to slap Jones with his handgun but the weapon accidentally fired.
"It would have been difficult to humanize him" to a jury, Hawthorne said. "He wasn't a Boy Scout. But he's sad about what happened. He was very close" to Jones.
Members of Langley's family, including his wife, Allison, and sister, Veronica, said they were relieved he wasn't going to face death. They noted that with time served, Langley was going to spend about 17 years in prison.
"I think it was a good call," Allison Langley said. "Thank God for mercy."