Forgiveness eases sentence in Tampa wedding brawl

TAMPA — Sandra Felita Dean had been in trouble a lot. She faced punishment for cocaine and marijuana possession, shoplifting and driving with a revoked license, state arrest records show.

She spent a stint in prison and didn't finish the terms of her probation, a prosecutor said.

Now, she stood Monday before a Hillsborough Circuit judge awaiting a sentence for choking a 74-year-old grandmother after a wedding.

The prosecutor told the judge to put the "habitual offender" in prison.

But he didn't after the victim asked for leniency.

"I hate to see her go to prison," Mary Wright told the judge. "I hate to see anyone locked up who has children."

Judge Anthony K. Black heeded her words and gave Dean, 27, a year of house arrest and three years of probation.

Redemption came after Dean and others had marred the marriage night of Wright's grandson.

On Nov. 8, Markeith Brown and Tasha Johnson exchanged vows at the Rusty Pelican, a waterfront restaurant on Rocky Point Drive. During the reception, Brown began throwing dollar bills on the dance floor for kids to gather.

Someone took offense and an argument led to a brawl involving up to 40 guests divided by family lines, prosecutors said.

Dean, who wasn't at the wedding, got a phone call mentioning that a cousin had been hit in the head with a brick.

She drove to the Residence Inn at 4312 Boy Scout Blvd. and found the groom's father, Andrew Thompson, and Wright. A scuffle broke out and Dean put Wright in a choke hold, Wright and Thompson testified.

Dean spent about 32 days in jail before she was convicted last month of battery on a person older than 65.

Up until Monday, Wright had told prosecutors she would be fine with whatever punishment the judge decided.

Then she heard Dean's husband testify that their marriage was young and that Dean had 11- and 3-year-old girls.

Dean didn't speak at the hearing but had her attorney read a statement.

"I'm writing this letter because I'm responsible," the statement said. "There's no explanation for what I did."

Judge Black weighed Wright's words of forgiveness and the fact that she hadn't been hurt in the attack. He kept Dean from prison but required that she take anger-management classes, complete 100 community service hours, be at home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., undergo random drug screenings and seek her GED.

After the court hearing, Dean's husband hugged Wright in the hallway. She gathered around Dean's family and recognized Dean's mother-in-law as a child she had known decades ago.

She touched the woman's arm and said, "It's been a long time."

They made small talk and Wright reiterated what she hoped for Dean.

"She's got to learn and not touch anyone when she doesn't know who was involved," Wright said.

Dean's mother-in-law nodded her head in agreement.

Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or jgeorge@sptimes.com.

Forgiveness eases sentence in Tampa wedding brawl 05/17/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 18, 2010 12:25am]

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