DADE CITY — After the guilty verdict was read, and the defendant showed no reaction and the jurors filed out of the silent courtroom late Wednesday, the 69-year-old victim got up to speak.
She read from a notebook, sounding much more fragile than she had on the witness stand, describing the night two men broke into her home, held a knife to her throat and raped her.
She said she won't ever be the same after what Jathniel McMichael and Bobby Lee Black III — both now convicted in the case — did to her. But she also acknowledged how they'll never be the same. Black, 22, is spending the rest of his life in prison. McMichael, 21, faces the same possible sentence.
And so she wondered: "Was it worth it?"
"I will never let what they did to me control my life," she continued, "and this reason is because Jesus helped me. I will keep both of them in my prayers. I spoke to a priest, who told me that I don't have to physically face them in order to forgive them. "So I will keep them in my prayers and keep their families in my prayers."
McMichael's mother wept quietly. The victim walked back to her seat.
The jury of two women and four men deliberated about two hours before convicting McMichael, 21, of home invasion robbery, sexual battery and battery on a person 65 or older.
It was the spring of 2007 when first one elderly woman was raped at home in the dead of night by intruders, then weeks later, a second. Fear gripped Zephyrhills' senior residents, many of whom live in close-knit mobile home parks where they greet each other every winter and disperse north each summer.
On March 1, 2007, prosecutors said, Black and McMichael broke into the first woman's home on Gordon Street and took turns raping her. Before they left with her camera, rosary beads, keys and nightgown, Black kicked her in the head.
Three weeks later, a 68-year-old woman in another mobile home park was awakened by two men barging in. They punched her when she tried to call 911. They put her in her minivan and drove to her bank, where they took cash from an ATM. Along the way, Black raped her. McMichael held a knife to her throat but couldn't kill her.
Finally, they drove her to a water-filled quarry, threw her in and pushed her van in after her. She managed to climb out and get help.
Both victims testified this week — the third time they've had to tell their stories to a jury.
Prosecutors also played recorded interviews in which McMichael admitted his role in the crimes to sheriff's detectives. In one tape, talking about the first case, McMichael said that after Black raped the woman, he then started to but "it didn't feel right."
"He made a conscious decision to rape her at knifepoint, to steal her belongings," Assistant State Attorney Manny Garcia told jurors in his closing argument.
But Scott Davis, McMichael's attorney, said his client was "browbeaten" into agreeing with what the sheriff's detectives wanted to hear.
"This ain't over. The hammer's coming down," Davis recalled one detective telling McMichael. "The bottom line is these statements should absolutely be disregarded. They weren't freely and voluntarily given. They were the product of extreme, extreme coercion."
McMichael still must face trial in the second attack. He faces life in prison in that case, too.
Molly Moorhead can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.