DADE CITY — When the verdict was read, 17-year-old Harleme Larry softly bounced his head a few times and sat down. He was handcuffed. He looked down.
It took 10 hours of deliberation before a jury of nine women and three men found Larry guilty of first-degree murder Friday. In all likelihood, he will spend the rest of his life in prison.
His public defender, Tom Hanlon, argued that Larry was not guilty of the murder of Agustin Hernandez, a married father of two, on July 10, 2010. Larry only took the fall, he said, for a man named Derrick Wright.
On the stand, Larry called Wright a "good friend and brother." He said he forgave Wright for tricking him.
After the verdict, Hanlon said he could tell the jury wrestled with the decision.
"From a personal standpoint, I liked Harleme very much," he said. "I feel terrible for him, but the jury said what they said. I know they worked real hard. You could look at them and see they were totally exhausted. They gave every effort they could. The system says that's what justice is."
Larry was just 14 when the shooting occurred. Authorities say he went up to four Hispanic men sitting on the back of a truck. With a bandana on his face, he robbed the men and got just $4. He then fired at Hernandez, who died in an ambulance after attempts to resuscitate him failed.
Larry's grandmother and caretaker was present for most of the trial, but not the verdict. She took Larry in when he was 3 after his mother, a prostitute and drug addict, was murdered by his stepfather. His father has been in and out of prison. When Larry hit his teenage years, his grandmother fell ill and caring for him was difficult.
His brother, Mike Larry, rubbed his face with his hand hunched over in the courtroom after the verdict. He went outside to a courtyard and walked in circles. Then he left the courthouse.
Assistant State Attorney Phil Matthey said Hernandez's wife moved back to Mexico shortly after the slaying.
One of the strongest witnesses for the state, a man named Keith Cheatum, testified that he saw someone matching Larry's description walk by and ask, "what … you lookin' at?" with a bandana around his face. The state re-called Cheatum to the stand after Larry testified. Cheatum told jurors he knew Derrick Wright for many years and would have recognized him or his voice.
Larry will be sentenced in August, and there is little wiggle room. His attorneys plan to present some mitigating factors to potentially help him get less than a life sentence.
"We try to hope that we can pull a rabbit out of a hat," Hanlon said.