TAMPA — Eight hundred and 18 days after her husband left for work as a Tampa police corporal and did not come home, Cindy Roberts sat in the front row of a Hillsborough County courtroom, staring at the man who took him from her.
It was close to 9 p.m. Tuesday. The jury had been out almost six hours. It now had a verdict:
Humberto Delgado Jr. was guilty of the first-degree murder of Cpl. Mike Roberts.
The woman who maintained her composure for seven days of graphic evidence, who for two years of court hearings endured the presence of the man who made her a widow, began to shake. She was held on one side by a Tampa police officer and on the other by the chief.
In the presence of dozens of Tampa police officers who awaited the news with her, she gave a prosecutor a tight hug of thanks.
After she left, police Chief Jane Castor said a few words:
"We certainly support that verdict, but it doesn't bring Mike back and it doesn't relieve the pain that his TPD family feels and his family feels. . . . But we're happy to see that justice has been served."
Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn issued a statement, saying that "while no verdict can bring back a wonderful father and husband, and a dedicated police officer, the verdict brings closure to a terrible chapter in our lives."
Delgado appeared to show no emotion as the verdict was read.
His attorneys had asked jurors to depart downward with their verdict for third-degree murder, manslaughter or not guilty by reason of insanity.
There was no question that Delgado was at the scene the night of Aug. 19, 2009, or that his bullet killed Roberts.
"The question remains, for your resolution, whether he is to be held responsible," Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner told jurors during closing arguments.
Both sides laid out a narrative of the incident that began when Cpl. Roberts approached Delgado, who was homeless and had spent the past eight hours walking 15 miles from Oldsmar to Tampa. At some point, Delgado ran, the corporal shot a Taser and a scuffle ensued.
The defense's outcome: As Delgado and Roberts struggled, Roberts put his hand on the gun and the shot was fired by mistake. That's why a shell casing was found not at the scene, but still inside the gun.
The prosecution's version: Delgado pistol-whipped Roberts, as evidenced by wounds to his head and blood on the gun; and instead of running away, the defendant made the decision to hold a gun to the unconscious corporal and fire.
Throughout the trial, the state hammered a theme of choices.
Delgado chose to lie on forms to buy guns, chose to turn down a bed at a shelter, chose to walk to Tampa instead of taking a ride from his uncle.
Chose to kill.
The defense maintained Delgado was insane, believing the corporal was going to kill him.
Assistant Public Defender Chris Watson reminded jurors of the numerous accounts they heard about Delgado's paranoid delusions and his three hospitalizations for psychotic episodes.
Assistant Public Defender Chris Watson read from a piece of paper, found folded in the defendant's wallet, that Delgado titled, A message of promise to this evil world filled with lions and cheaters and monkey cheetahs.
"He didn't make a choice to be born mentally ill," Watson said. "He didn't make a choice to be bipolar. That's something nature gave to him."
Pruner ended his statements with Delgado's own words on that same piece of paper.
In them, Pruner said, jurors would find foreshadowing of Delgado's actions against a corporal who tried to deprive him of freedom:
So as I am, priceless and free, so will all minds be, I, I, all who stand against this I, I, will understand what it means to die.
Death is the decision still to be made for Delgado.
This week, the jury will return for the penalty phase of the trial, to consider whether he should spend the rest of his life in prison or face the ultimate penalty.
A judge, with their recommendation, will ultimately rule.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.