TAMPA — A jury had already decided Lawrence Dickey was guilty of murder when he stood over his sleeping wife with a baseball bat and delivered three fatal blows to her head.
Thursday's court hearing was about a much broader question:
Where did his depraved act fit in with the rest of his life?
Was Dickey a bad person? Or a good person who had done a bad thing? How should he pay?
The audience was split in half, and most had something to say.
On one side sat his Walmart co-workers, who described him as a reliable loss-prevention officer, and his father, who told of a man who loves his kids.
On the other side sat those still sick from the loss of 44-year-old Beatrice Dickey, the people who etched the name "Bea Reid" on her tombstone to grant her the divorce they said she had spoken of for six months before she died.
She was executive director of the Office of Business Affairs for the Polk County Sheriff's Office. She was also a cancer survivor.
Her friends described her husband as a mean drunk who was jealous of her success. To their point, her 22-year-old son Matthew Kirkland told this story:
On St. Patrick's Day four years ago, Dickey called him from a party, saying he needed a ride. His wife wasn't paying enough attention to him.
"Your mother's a b- - - -," the son recalls Dickey saying.
The next morning, the son got a call from his mother, begging him to come over. Dickey had poured 5 gallons of paint on her car. Kirkland arrived to find his mother, covered in paint, trying to clean it off.
"This is my mother in the midst of breast cancer, barely any hair, doesn't have any breasts. And she's standing there crying," Kirkland said.
"And he's sitting there, taunting her and laughing."
The couple went to counseling, but he kept drinking. And on Sept. 17, 2011, he had about nine beers, followed by three or four shots, and made a fool of himself at a Journey concert. Later at home, he told his 12-year-old son that he would always love him.
Dickey has testified he remembers nothing until just after the attack, when he found himself standing over her bed.
On Thursday, he stood before the judge and cried.
"There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of her," Dickey said. "I spent four months in an isolation cell with nothing but four walls and 24 hours a day to think of every stinking, rotten thing I've done in my life. And I know I'm not a good person.
"… I'm here to tell you I know I took her life. … I honestly cannot tell you why."
Circuit Judge William Fuente could have sentenced Dickey to prison for any span between 20 years and life. He stopped the hearing to think about his decision. More than half an hour later, he returned.
"I don't have any doubt as I listen today that Mr. Dickey is remorseful," Fuente said.
"Mr. Dickey was, no doubt, aware of his drinking problem, and he was, no doubt, aware for a long time. … He had the opportunity to seek treatment and to stop, but elected not to.
"… So when he is not drinking, he is not a bad guy. When he is drinking, he is not a good husband or a good person."
Life, though, was not an appropriate sentence for this second-degree murder.
Forty years in prison, the judge gave him. And after that, five years of drug-offender probation, during which time he cannot consume alcohol and must submit to random testing. He will not see freedom again until he is at least 78.
Dickey left for prison.
A grieving son left satisfied.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.