LARGO — Though he caused her death, Neils C. Larsen III did not intend to kill his roommate after they argued in September 2008, a jury decided Thursday.
But Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph A. Bulone pointed out that from testimony it was clear Barbara Hebert died "a long, slow death" from an "overwhelming" force.
"This is the most aggravated manslaughter this court has ever encountered," Bulone said.
Those circumstances included the fact that Larsen never called authorities after Hebert died and left her body to decompose on the kitchen floor of the Dunedin home they shared.
And that he duct-taped her mouth, arms and legs.
And that he admitted in court that he lied to investigators.
Larsen had been charged with second-degree murder in the death of Hebert, 61, whose body was found by Pinellas deputies under a pile of blankets on Sept. 13, 2008. He faced the possibility of life in prison.
After nearly four hours of deliberations, the jury found Larsen guilty of the lesser crime of manslaughter.
Bulone, however, sentenced the 57-year-old to the maximum allowable for his crime — 15 years in state prison.
Deputies had responded to the home on Sept. 12, 2008, to check on Larsen after a friend of his notified the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office that he had received a disturbing letter from Larsen.
When Larsen refused to let a deputy come into the house, an eight-hour standoff ensued that ended when a SWAT team deployed gas into the home.
It's unknown exactly how long Hebert had been dead, but she was found under a pile of blankets in a T-shirt and underwear, with her arms, legs and mouth bound. She suffered 13 fractured ribs and a broken sternum.
Larsen testified Wednesday that the bones may have been broken when he fell on top of her during a struggle.
But he also acknowledged in court that he lied to detectives and was previously convicted for battering a different roommate in 2004. In that case, he was accused of beating a man with a frying pan after an argument about a chess game.
He was charged with aggravated battery, but later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and received probation.
That roommate was also found bound, said Assistant State Attorney Blair Clarke.
Hebert's friend and former co-worker Tammy Koross attended the full three-day trial. She urged the judge to sentence Larsen to the maximum.
"If this monster is out in public, somebody else is going to get a frying pan to the head," she said.
The lead investigator on the case, Sheriff's Office Detective John Spoor, also asked Judge Bulone to impose the harshest sentence available and said he, too, was concerned Larsen could harm someone else.
"I found this case particularly, extremely violent toward the victim," he said.
Larsen has a criminal record in Florida dating to 1974, including the battery case, drug charges and DUIs.
Larsen's public defender, Greg Williams, said after the verdict it was "a very difficult and a very tragic case" and extended sympathy to Hebert's loved ones.
"I think (the jurors) really took the time to weigh all the evidence put before them, and they came back with a fair verdict," he said.
Rita Farlow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.