TAMPA — Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee doesn't usually appear in court for the many criminal cases that originate from his agency. But Friday morning he was there.
Standing before Circuit Judge Emmett Battles, Gee explained why he thought Miguel Serrano deserved to go to prison for the rest of his life.
"The thing I fear the most is that dreaded phone call I receive that tells me one of my deputies has been killed or wounded in the line of duty," Gee said. "This case represents the judicial conclusion to one of those awful events."
He recounted how Serrano struggled with Deputy Miguel Galarza and shot him in the neck after Galarza responded to a 911 call at a Town 'N Country apartment in 2009. Serrano was in the midst of a home invasion robbery when Galarza arrived.
"I am compelled to point out that had the bullet that entered Miguel's neck killed or crippled him, there would be very little interest in leniency in Mr. Serrano's case," Gee said. "The seriousness of the crime and conviction is so profound that it bears your strongest sanction: life in prison."
Battles later did as Gee had hoped, imposing four life sentences for Serrano's multiple convictions, which included attempted murder of a law enforcement officer, armed burglary and robbery.
Serrano stood with his head bowed, his hands cuffed in front of him, as Battles read the sentence.
Galarza also spoke at the sentencing hearing, telling of his physical and mental scars.
"I will always have these scars on my neck," he said, choking back tears. "In our life, our thoughts become choices and choices become actions. Our actions have consequences which are ours to bear. That night, Mr. Serrano already made his choice that human life is unimportant to him."
No one spoke on Serrano's behalf, and he did not make a statement.
After using a Spanish interpreter for most of the trial, Serrano listened without assistance Friday. When the judge asked him whether he understood what was being said, he nodded and said "yes."
"I think Deputy Galarza said it best — he made choices," Battles said. "And those choices bring him here today to be held to account. Everything that this court heard convinces the court that he is a danger."
The judge also sentenced Serrano to 42 years for three lesser offenses, including obstructing an officer with violence and armed false imprisonment.
Later, Gee said he believed the life sentence was a fair outcome. He chose to speak at the hearing to try to ensure that Serrano received the maximum sentence.
"You never know what a judge is going to do, and I respect the burden that he has," Gee said. "I think we really need to send a strong message that if you hurt one of these guys, you're going to jail for the rest of your life.
"They wear that bulletproof vest, but the only thing that really protects them is the law."
Dan Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]