BROOKSVILLE — The thunder started rolling early Wednesday over Brooksville, and Roxanne Nelson thought of her only daughter.
"Whenever it rains and thunders, I say it's Dana raising hell because she received no justice," Nelson, 53, said as rain continued to fall outside the Hernando County Government Center. "And she will continue raising hell."
A little earlier, Nelson watched as the man who killed Dana, 28, and 29-year-old John Ketsemidis was sentenced to life in prison.
Craig Aaron Lede, 41, confessed to brutally beating Nelson and Ketsimidis with a baseball bat late on the night of Nov. 30. Lede faced two counts of premeditated murder, but reached a deal with prosecutors to accept a sentence of two consecutive life terms in prison.
"He wishes to avoid going to death row and being executed," Devon Sharkey, Lede's public defender, told Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr.
Before Merritt handed down the sentence, Assistant State Attorney Rich Buxman reviewed the facts of the case, based on Lede's confession and witness accounts.
Nelson and Ketsemidis, who had been dating for more than a year and lived with his parents in Spring Hill, showed up at Lede's house on Gondolier Road in Spring Hill about 11 p.m. At some point, Lede became enraged, grabbed the bat and bashed Ketsemidis in the head before turning on Nelson. Both lay helpless on the floor as Lede slammed the bat over and over into their heads and upper bodies.
After the beatings, Lede pulled Ketsemidis' 2001 BMW into his garage, bound Nelson's hands, put tape over her mouth and dropped her in the trunk. He tied Ketsemidis' feet, dragged the body into the garage and covered it with a blanket. He tried to clean up the blood with bleach.
Lede then drove the BMW to the home of Ketsemidis' parents in Spring Hill, told them their son was in the hospital and asked for money.
"I got your $40!" Alisha Boyton, a longtime friend of Ketsemidis who was watching Wednesday from the gallery, exclaimed at that point, drawing a warning from the bailiff. That's the amount Lede reportedly asked for as Nelson's body lay in the trunk of the car.
Ketsemidis was on probation and wore an ankle monitoring device. When his parents reported him missing, the tracking bracelet led deputies to the house, the bodies and Lede.
He told investigators he snapped photos of the bodies that investigators found on a digital camera as a trophy to show anyone "if they tried to mess with him," Buxman said.
Merritt asked Lede if he was on any medication, if he was satisfied with his legal representation, and if he understood his plea and made it willingly.
Yes, Lede replied.
The medications, he said, are for anxiety and depression.
He declined to make a statement.
After Merritt levied the sentence, Roxanne Nelson got up to speak, accompanied by her sister, Debbie Ervin, who read Nelson's handwritten words.
Nelson was the kind of person who nursed puppies back to health and bought meals for homeless people, her mother told the court. She had enrolled in community college classes with thoughts of a career as a veterinarian or pediatrician. Her 6-year-old daughter, who now lives with her father out of state, doesn't understand why she can't be with her mother.
"I pray every night to Dana to watch her every day and night, to keep her daughter safe, and be that angel on her shoulder," Ervin said, struggling to read her sister's handwriting.
Lede remained expressionless, eyes fixed on the judge, as Nelson's comments turned to him: "I will pray every night that the devil takes you and that you burn in hell."
Lede, who has a history of domestic violence and a September 2010 battery charge, changed his story several times before ultimately confessing, Buxman told the Tampa Bay Times.
Initial investigative reports said Nelson and Ketsemidis went to his house to collect a debt and that Lede couldn't pay and became angry. No one else was home at the time. But one man interviewed later told investigators that Lede said he intended to kill Ketsemidis because he owed Lede $600 for a computer, Buxman said.
Roxanne Nelson said her daughter was home in her pajamas when Ketsemidis called and asked her to come with him to Lede's.
"My daughter was in the wrong place at the wrong time," she said.
The families of both victims wanted Lede to be put to death, but they reluctantly supported the plea agreement after Buxman explained the lengthy trial process followed by years of appeals.
Magdelena Ketsemidis attended the hearing, but decided not to address the court. Her husband, Zafirios, who suffered from heart problems, died in June at Spring Hill Regional Hospital.
He never got over the brutal, premature death of his son, Mrs. Ketsemidis said before the hearing. Afterward, she expressed disgust about Lede's apparent lack of remorse, and regret that he won't suffer an eye for eye.
"It's what I wanted from the beginning," she said. "It's what he deserves."
Tony Marrero can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1431.