NEW PORT RICHEY — Those who loved Seth Sigmon and John Croft described them similarly. Fun. Loyal to family. Crazy about kids. Not prone to making trouble.
Three years ago, these men were neighbors. They argued near Crofts' front yard after Croft scolded Sigmon's 9-year-old stepson for climbing on a trash bin. Moments later, Croft shot Sigmon three times with a .22-caliber pistol.
In May, a jury convicted Croft, now 84, of manslaughter. On Tuesday, Circuit Judge Michael Andrews sentenced him to 20 years in prison.
"The state used the term 'execution,' and I think it's nothing short of that," Andrews told Croft, whose lawyers had asked for probation in a secure assisted-living facility, a lesser sentence than the 30-year maximum he could have received. "I'm also realistic. I think a 30-year sentence is unnecessary."
Croft, dressed in orange prison stripes, apologized to Sigmon's relatives who filled a bench in the courtroom. Among them was Sigmon's stepson, Anthony Grimsley, now 12.
"It was one of those things that got out of control," Croft said. "I'd rather it had been me than him."
Croft's attorney, Nick Michailos, called the charge against his client "an isolated incident" and noted his lack of a prior record. He said Croft had shown remorse and had even tried to fatally overdose on pills a month after the shooting.
"He said he wished it had never happened," Michailos said.
Croft's adopted grandson, Howard Bell II, described him as fun loving and faithful. He said he took care of Bell's grandmother until she died.
He took me fishing," Bell said. "He taught me how to play pool. John was someone who could always make me laugh and bring a smile to my face."
Sue Austin said the same about her nephew, Sigmon, the man known as "Uncle Siggy."
"He was helping a child with a fishing line, playing ball. This was what Seth was about. He was about family."
Sigmon's mother, Debbie, said she had no sense of wellbeing since the her son's death.
"His life was cut way too short by a man who has been manipulative by lying about the events that occurred that day to justify his actions," she told the judge. "He's never shown any remorse, until I heard him speak today and that's after he has been incarcerated and his life is not how he wants it."
Prosecutors objected to the probation request, saying that Croft shot Sigmon, 29, three times on April 25, 2009. Authorities said the first shot caused Sigmon to fall to one knee, then Croft shot him twice more on the ground. The shooting took place in front of their homes on Connie Court in the Shady Hills community.
Neighbors said they saw Croft shoot Sigmon after the men began arguing. The argument took place moments after Grimsley ran crying into the house. He said Croft had yelled at him for climbing on the Dumpster in front of Croft's home. Sigmon went outside to confront Croft, who had taken a .22 caliber pistol from a table in his house and put it in his pocket.
Croft, who testified during his trial that he shot Sigmon in self defense, said he "may have been a little rude" to the boy, but said he didn't want him to get hurt.
He said Sigmon was waving his hands and gave Croft a "belly push" and called Croft a "shriveled-up son of a b----" and threatened to throw him in the Dumpster.
"I backed up from him and told him 'Why don't you go back home where you came from?' And he turned around and came at me real fast. I pulled the gun out. He said 'What are you going to do you old son of a b----, are you going to shoot me?' I told him, 'Damn right,' if he didn't go home."
He said he didn't remember firing but once. Prosecutors painted a different picture. Instead of a neighbor looking out for a child's safety, they showed the jury a curmudgeon who disliked the boy.
On Tuesday, assistant state attorney Joel Fritton reminded the judge that Croft stood over Sigmon's body after shooting him three times. He then went into the house and got a beer before sheriff's deputies arrived.
Andrews said the number of shots made a more lenient sentence inappropriate.
"If you had shot him once, a very good argument of self-defense and significant mitigation in this case would be present," he said. "But that's not what we have here."
After the sentencing, Sigmon's relatives said they were satisfied with the sentence. But Austin, who pointed out that the shooting stemmed from an argument over a Dumpster, called the incident tragic for everyone.
"There are no victors here," she said.