BROOKSVILLE — Jaime Angel Marquez stood at the podium Thursday morning reading a recommendation that he serve the rest of his life in prison.
A jury convicted him a month ago for the August armed robbery of a teenage couple atop the popular observation tower in Hernando Beach. At the time, he was under house arrest for another armed robbery.
When his time came to speak, his voice crackled and eyes teared. Marquez pleaded for mercy, for his life.
I am only 19, he told the judge. I never had a family until now. I'm not a bad person.
"All I ask is: Can you please not be so quick to give me life? Because I can still learn," he said.
Circuit Judge Stephen Rushing granted his request. In part.
He sentenced Marquez to 30 years in prison followed by five years of probation.
"I'm giving you a sentence that you will be able to get out and make a life but … also protects the community," Rushing said.
In making his ruling, Rushing said he balanced Marquez's situation with the trauma experienced by the victims.
A mother of one of the victims, Sue Birrell, told the judge that her 18-year-old daughter is still suffering psychologically from the Aug. 31 robbery.
"At the time she should be looking forward to her senior year of high school. Instead, she is being treated for nightmares and depression," Birrell said.
Her daughter, Brittany Birrell, and daughter's boyfriend, Sonny Mylle, 19, were talking on the top deck about 10 p.m. when two men — later identified as Marquez and Jerae Crussell, 24 — approached.
Marquez pointed the gun at Mylle and told him to empty his pockets. The gunman ordered him to lie on the deck and Crussell told Birrell to hand over her jewelry and jacket. They then fled in Mylle's 1992 BMW.
Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter asked the judge to give his client a sentence equal to that of the other three defendants. Crussell received seven years in prison and two others who accompanied them that night received probation as part of plea deals for their testimony.
Fanter asked for 10 years, the minimum sentence allowed. Marquez's father, Angel Marquez, also asked for leniency for his son.
He told the judge how his son had a tough childhood, how he wasn't there because he was often in prison and how they are turning their lives around now.
"I mean, who hasn't committed a crime or made a mistake in their lives?" the father said. "I'm not asking you to let him go. I'm just asking for a fair sentence."
Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee said he heard a similar story a year ago when Angel Marquez approached him after his son's first arrest for armed robbery in January 2008.
In that case, the prosecutor cut the younger Marquez a break. But this time he asked for life in prison — the same sentence recommended by the state Corrections Department.
"Mr. Marquez was given the opportunity to straighten his life out," the prosecutor said. "He failed to do that."
After the sentence, Fanter made one last request. Marquez's parents can't visit him in prison because they are felons. He asked the judge to recommend that corrections officials allow such visitation.
Rushing said he does not have the authority to make such an order, but he agreed to make the request. "I do think it's important to keep those family ties," he said.
John Frank can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 754-6114.