LARGO — A Pinellas County jury found Carl Edward Roland guilty of first-degree murder Thursday, unleashing four years of rage felt by the family of his ex-girlfriend.
One by one, relatives and friends of 36-year-old Jennifer Gonzalez's stood up and spoke before Roland was sentenced.
"God forgive me for saying this, but I hope you rot. … I hope every day you have is miserable," said her best friend, Jana Diaz.
"Now you get to spend the rest of your life locked up like the animal you are," said her sister Angel Lovell, who traveled from Connecticut to attend the four-day trial.
"I hate you, Carl Roland, I hate you," said the victim's mother, Cindy LeVan.
When they were done, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Timothy Peters sentenced Roland to life in prison with no possibility of parole. Prosecutors had not sought the death penalty for the 45-year-old former software salesman.
Roland stood passively and cast his eyes toward the floor as Gonzalez's family and friends spoke. Although he had at times been vocal during the trial, complaining that his attorney was not effectively representing him, he did not comment during the sentencing on Thursday or show emotion.
Roland's image and story became national news in 2005 when he fled to Atlanta after strangling his former girlfriend and leaving her body in a retention pond behind her Oldsmar apartment. In Atlanta, he climbed a 25-story construction crane and refused to come down for more than two days.
But for the people who came to the courtroom Thursday, this trial never was about Roland's errant trip to Atlanta.
It was always about Gonzalez, who worked at Target and a preschool to support her two daughters, who were 4 and 14 when she died.
It was about a woman who loved cheerleading and running track while growing up in Pinellas Park, and who shared deep friendships that can't be replaced.
"I had never been as close with anyone the way I was with Jennifer," Diaz said. "She was the sister I never had, and I don't think I'm ever, ever, ever going to have a friend like that again."
"I'm glad this long, dreadful journey has come to an end," Gonzalez' daughter Alycia Michele Zamora, 18, wrote in a letter that was read aloud in court. "Our mother was our whole world."
Prosecutor Fred Schaub said he was "pleased that the victim's family was able to get justice."
According to trial testimony, Roland was upset because Gonzalez refused to move to Las Vegas with him.
He came to her apartment that day in May 2005 and asked her to come outside to talk. Her daughters were home at the time. Gonzalez's body was found shortly after in the nearby pond.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8232.