LARGO — Laron Cordale Raiford, who is charged along with "Hiccup Girl" Jennifer Mee in the 2010 killing of a St. Petersburg man, has turned down an offer to plead guilty in exchange for a 40-year prison sentence.
But defense attorney Edward Liebling, who has pushed for a 30-year sentence, said he wanted to continue negotiations.
The 40-year offer was discussed Wednesday and in a previous hearing in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
Raiford, Mee and a third defendant are accused of plotting in October 2010 to lure 22-year-old Shannon Griffin to a house in the 500 block of Seventh Street N in St. Petersburg to rob him. Instead, Griffin was shot and killed.
In court Wednesday, Judge Nancy Moate Ley told Raiford it is his right to go to trial. But she also urged the 22-year-old to carefully consider the offer.
She pointed out that if he is convicted as charged of first-degree murder, the only legal sentence she could give him would be life in prison without the possibility of parole. But under the 40-year offer, he'd likely get out of prison when he's around 60.
Ley said she wanted Raiford to understand that by refusing that offer, "you're turning down a lot of time in prison, but so long as you stay healthy, a lot of years of freedom."
Ley also pointed out that Raiford could be convicted of first-degree murder even if he wasn't the one who shot Griffin. Under Florida's felony murder law, all the state has to do is prove he participated in the robbery and the robbery resulted in Griffin's death.
"They don't have to find you to be the shooter, you understand that?" Ley said.
Raiford, bald, with a goatee and glasses, told the judge he understood.
Ley pointed out, "Nobody's saying Miss Mee had the gun, right? But she's charged with first-degree murder."
Under either a 30-year or 40-year sentence, Raiford would serve a "minimum mandatory" 25 years — meaning no time off for good behavior during that portion of the sentence. For the remaining time, his sentence could be reduced by 15 percent if he were to behave. He also would receive credit for the time he has been in the Pinellas County Jail.
Raiford has another court hearing April 10.
Mee, 21, also is awaiting trial. She gained nationwide notoriety in high school, long before the killing, for having an uncontrollable case of hiccups. The third defendant, Lamont Antonio Newton, 25, also is awaiting trial.
Griffin, the victim, moved to the Tampa Bay area after Hurricane Katrina damaged the home where he lived with family in Mississippi.
Times staff writer Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232. Follow him on Twitter at @ckruegertimes.