LARGO — Convicted murderer Cordaro Hardin sang a rap song in court on Friday titled Where Do I Go From Here?
Not much later, Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley gave him an answer: prison, for the rest of his life.
The other possible answer had been: death row.
Hardin was convicted on Thursday of shooting two men, David Heath and Jeff Shultz, on the streets of St. Petersburg in January 2007. The crimes became known as the "homeless murders," though a victim's family members have said that was a misnomer.
In the second phase of the trial Friday, prosecutors argued that Hardin deserved the death penalty. His defense team argued for a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, the only other possible sentence for first-degree murder.
Hardin's family and friends testified about his difficult family life, his friendships and redeeming features such as his love of family and of music.
Hardin himself communicated to the jury through the song he wrote.
From the witness stand, Hardin sang, "God, I need a little assistance, will you be with me? By my side when I leave here, where do I go from here?"
The song then went to a bridge with lines that Hardin rapped.
"It's a question I can't answer. I'm praying for an answer. Like a person who got cancer. They lost all they had. Don't think they're very handsome," he rapped.
The song lasted about 90 seconds. Hardin kept his eyes downcast for the entire song.
When he was done, he bent over and covered his face with his hand, then left the stand.
The song did not go over well.
Heath's mother, June Bartke — who had earlier been praised by Judge Ley for showing compassion to Hardin's mother — walked out of the courtroom.
"I have to get out of here," she said.
Later, in court, Bartke said, "The rap song was just beyond my comprehension, to sing in a courtroom when you've just been convicted of two murders? I mean what is that all about … was he auditioning for something?"
Bartke expressed concern that maybe Hardin was hoping to make money or fame through YouTube, noting that a videographer had come to the courtroom. (The videographer came on behalf of the local media, including the St. Petersburg Times.)
Heath's former wife, Lynn-Marie Carty, said Hardin's song was lacking something important — any hint of remorse.
"He didn't say anything to us," said Carty, one of several family members of the victims who attended the trial. "It appears he's sorry for himself."
After other family members complained, defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand apologized for the song, saying it wasn't Hardin's fault. "That was my effort to humanize my client," he said.
Some people spoke in anger as they testified on Friday, some spoke in compassion, and some mixed the two.
Jason Heath of Los Angeles said his father, David, was a "kind, loving and gentle" person who lived his life as "a spiritual journey" and helped many people. "The ironic thing is that you may have killed someone who could have helped you," he said. He called Hardin a monster.
Heath's son, David, offered forgiveness to Hardin, and urged him to remember that example, and use it to guide and help the inmates he would live with.
Shultz's brother Richard of Coral Gables told Hardin to forget about forgiveness from him. "I hope you suffer physically and mentally every day."
Hardin's mother Linda expressed condolences several times to the victims' family members, and told her son that "I love you with every inch of my being."
The murders occurred on Jan. 17, 2007. Shultz, 43, was riding his bicycle in the 3500 block of Sixth Avenue N in St. Petersburg. Hardin and a friend, Dorion Dillard, both fired handguns at him.
About an hour later, the two came across Heath, 53, who was just a few blocks away from a friend's house where he planned to spend the night in a backyard hammock. He was shot and killed in the 4300 block of Seventh Avenue N.
Prosecutors had portrayed the murders as pointless. And on Friday, with his client already convicted, Brunvand agreed, calling the murders "senseless, without any reason."
But, he said, there were legal factors that should spare Hardin from the death penalty, including his lack of a serious previous criminal record and the fact that he was just 18 at the time of the crime. He is now 21.
The jury agreed.
Dillard previously pleaded guilty and got two life sentences.