LARGO — A Pinellas jury took just over two hours Wednesday to find Stephen Sterling guilty of murdering an 85-year-old man in his St. Petersburg home during a burglary two years ago.
Sterling bowed his head into his lawyer's shoulder and sobbed for several minutes after the verdict was read. In the gallery, his grandmother fell to the floor and screamed: "You're all liars. You're all liars."
Across the aisle, two family members of the victim, George Wallace, cried quietly. Wallace had lived a tragic life, which included the murder of his daughter and the suicide of his wife. He was in a wheelchair and had many medical issues when he was murdered.
Circuit Judge Cynthia Newton immediately sentenced Sterling, 24, to life in prison without the possibility of parole, which was the only possible sentence for first-degree murder in this case. Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty.
Prosecutors said Sterling and an accomplice, Eugene Wesley, broke into Wallace's home on Jan. 13, 2006. They threw a comforter over the elderly man's head and beat him. Wallace later died from his injuries at a hospital.
Forensic technicians found Sterling's fingerprints in several areas of Wallace's home, including a window frame where the burglars broke in and a garage door where they exited the home. The burglars also stole Wallace's car, and technicians found Sterling's fingerprint on the car's gas cap.
Wesley struck a deal with prosecutors in which he agreed to testify against Sterling. For his testimony, Wesley, who was 17 at the time of the crime, will plead guilty to second-degree murder and receive a 25-year prison sentence.
Sterling's defense lawyer told jurors that Wesley lied during his testimony and that Sterling's fingerprints could be explained because he knew Wallace and had been inside the house in the past.