DADE CITY — The sentence was a foregone conclusion. Jathniel McMichael could only get life in prison for two horrific attacks on Zephyrhills women in their 60s.
But first, the judge who presided over McMichael's two trials, and the two trials of his co-defendant, had some things to say about the crimes that were terrifying for both their randomness and their brutality.
"It's the kind of evil that exceeds my capacity to fully comprehend it," said Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa.
On March 1, 2007, a 66-year-old woman was awoken in her mobile home by two masked intruders. They held a knife to her throat, demanded money and jewelry, then took turns raping her. Before they left, one of them kicked her in the head.
Three weeks later, with no arrests in the first attack and Zephyrhills' senior citizens still reeling in fear, a 68-year-old woman in another mobile home park lived a similar horror. Two masked men barged in, demanded money, beat her. This time, they drove their victim in her minivan to a bank and withdrew money. Along the way, one of them raped her in the backseat. The trip ended at a dark, water-filled quarry, where they pushed her in and pushed her van in after her.
She managed to move out of the way, climb out and get help.
Bobby Lee Black III and McMichael, his friend, were charged. Black, 22, was tried and convicted in both cases last year and sent to prison for life. McMichael, 21, faced trial in the first attack in May and was convicted. This week, a jury found him guilty of home invasion robbery, kidnapping and grand theft motor vehicle in the second attack, but acquitted him of sexual battery. (Prosecutors said McMichael drove the van while Black raped the woman in the back.) He was also convicted of felony battery.
Through all the court hearings, Siracusa remained silent about the crime itself. The judge was required to presume both men innocent, to protect their rights and to ensure they got fair trials.
On Thursday morning, he heard from McMichael, who maintained his innocence and insisted he's a good person. He heard from McMichael's mother, who said she prays for the victims but stands by her son.
Then the judge finally broke his silence.
"I have to tell you, Mr. McMichael, we're not defined by what we think of ourselves," Siracusa said. "We're not defined by our intentions. We're defined by our actions. The actions that you and Mr. Black engaged in were beyond monstrous. They don't have a word for them."
He said he didn't believe McMichael's story, that Black and a third defendant, Andre Brathwaite, committed the crimes and told him about it, which is how he knew details when he was interviewed by two sheriff's detectives.
But even if that were true, the judge said, "How can a person raised in a good family sit and listen to that heinous description and not report that to the authorities?
"You did nothing, and as a result, another woman gets dragged out of her home, beaten, raped and thrown into a quarry."
Regardless, the judge said, the story was not credible, and he was convinced it was McMichael who committed the heinous acts.
And with that, he handed down the sentence in both cases.
It amounted to this:
Life in prison, followed by life in prison, followed by 75 years.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.