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Hillsborough judge shows mercy for girl who murdered

Yajaira Jimenez-Castillo, 18, is consoled by Lilly McCarty, one of her attorneys, as she reacts to her sentence of 15 years in the stabbing death of Ramon Ramirez Arzola when she was 15.

SCOTT MCINTYRE | Times

Yajaira Jimenez-Castillo, 18, is consoled by Lilly McCarty, one of her attorneys, as she reacts to her sentence of 15 years in the stabbing death of Ramon Ramirez Arzola when she was 15.

TAMPA — She plunged a knife into a man 74 times and called it self-defense.

A jury called it murder.

On Monday, a judge pondered what should become of 18-year-old Yajaira Jimenez-Castillo, who sat silently before him, waiting to be sentenced.

He already knew her story.

It went like this:

Ramon Ramirez Arzola, 23, had tried to grab her breast, called her a dirty name and pulled a knife. Jimenez, then 15, thought he was going to rape her.

She'd been raped before, she swore under oath. It started when she was a little girl, at the hands of two older relatives.

They got away with it.

This man wouldn't.

"He tried to rip my clothes," she said in interview transcripts filed in court. "He threw me on the ground like a friggin' rag doll. Hell, it was just like he could do whatever he wanted with me."

She cut her hands as she grabbed his knife.

"Why did you stab him?" a lawyer asked her.

"I was scared," she said. "I don't really know."

Witnesses saw her straddled over his motionless body on June 13, 2008. She was drunk and high. She didn't remember how many times she cut into him.

A psychiatrist later testified she may have felt a heightened sense of danger because of post-traumatic stress disorder.

"How do you feel about what happened?" the lawyer asked.

"I wish it was me that was dead," she said. "And I wish he was here, so he could go through this and I wouldn't."

She once tried to blind herself with a pencil so she couldn't see her rapists. She'd done drugs since age 10 and started drinking not long after. Because her mother was a migrant worker, she'd start the school year late and leave early. She got into fights and witnessed a stabbing. She got arrested for driving without a license and violating probation.

In her jail cell after the murder, she reminded a psychiatrist of a frightened animal — terrified, confused, out of control.

In the months that followed, she told a church jail ministry volunteer her story. Dianne Marchman decided that once Jimenez was granted bail, she'd take her in.

She took the girl to have her first meal at a restaurant. She gave her a first birthday celebration, her first Thanksgiving, her first Christmas.

Marchman took her to church, got her a part-time job and helped her rack up 455 volunteer hours. She watched her get a GED and get accepted into a technical school.

Then on Monday, she watched her sit at the defense table, holding her public defender's hand.

The victim's family had said Ramirez was a good, hardworking man and that his killer needed to pay.

Prosecutors asked the judge for 15 years in prison. The defense wanted none.

Then, Circuit Judge Daniel Sleet spoke. He recognized the crime was unsophisticated and isolated, that Jimenez showed remorse and that the victim initiated the struggle, though he posed no threat when she delivered the fatal blow.

"The fact remains," he told Jimenez, "you took a life. You could have left."

When he announced a 15-year sentence, she unleashed a howl.

But then, she heard she would serve less than three years of it in custody, at a facility for youthful offenders. The rest of the sentence, Sleet ruled, will be suspended, meaning she will serve it as probation.

In a couple of years, Jimenez will once again be welcomed into Marchman's home.

The girl who once avoided eye contact now calls her mom.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Hillsborough judge shows mercy for girl who murdered 11/29/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 30, 2010 8:03am]
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