BROOKSVILLE — When bailiffs finally led the morose defendant away in handcuffs, Kyle DePalma, Sonsee Sanders and a handful of family members and friends embraced in the courtroom.
For the moment, at least, the DePalma family's nightmare was over.
For Robert Jardin, however, it is only beginning.
A Hernando Circuit Court jury found Jardin guilty Tuesday in the October 2006 stabbing deaths of Masaryktown residents Patrick DePalma, 84, and his wife, Evelyn, 79.
Jardin, 35, of Brooksville, was convicted of two counts of first-degree murder, one count of robbery, one count of burglary of an occupied dwelling and one count of grand theft.
With the conviction, Jardin faces the possibility of the death penalty. His sentencing hearing will begin this morning, and jurors will recommend either life in prison or death by lethal injection.
The jury of 12 — seven men and five women, none of them from Masaryktown — reached its verdict after 15 hours of deliberations over two days, after a weeklong trial. When the jurors returned to the courtroom about 4 p.m. Tuesday to announce their decision, at least two of the female jurors had tears in their eyes.
Jardin, who showed little emotion throughout the trial, slumped his shoulders once the court clerk read the verdict, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. He later sat down at the table and buried his face in his hands.
Meanwhile, Kyle DePalma and Sonsee Sanders — two of Patrick and Evelyn DePalma's three grandchildren — and other family members smiled and hugged, but had little to say on the way out of the Hernando County Government Center.
"We're definitely pleased with the verdict," said a stone-faced Kyle DePalma.
Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino, the county's chief homicide prosecutor, said the family's muted reaction to the verdict wasn't a surprise.
"You would hope that it helps … but (the DePalmas) have suffered a tremendous loss," Magrino said. "Maybe they'll have a sense of comfort that the individual responsible has been held accountable."
A former Marine and divorced father of three, Jardin emerged as the lead suspect in the brutal murders nearly two years after authorities found the DePalmas' battered and bloodied bodies in their secluded home just north of the Hernando-Pasco county line.
Jardin initially lied to detectives, telling them he didn't know the DePalmas and that he had never been to their home.
But in court last week, Jardin testified that he accepted a ride with a man named "Rick" to buy some cocaine on the night of Oct. 28, 2006, and that, along the way, they stopped to pick up another man named "Bub." The two companions continued to the DePalmas' home on Korbus Lane and then instructed Jardin to stay outside in the car. Within minutes, Jardin said, they waved him inside and into the grisly crime scene.
Jardin said he never told anyone what happened that night because Rick had threatened to harm his children.
Though authorities have identified only Jardin publicly, court affidavits and hundreds of pages of documents reveal that other suspects remain at large in the deaths.
That story mattered little to Magrino, who presented hours of evidence showing that Jardin was in the home at the time of the murders and reminded jurors that Jardin repeatedly gave false statements to authorities throughout the investigation.
Among the evidence: A DNA analyst testified that swabbings from a milk jug found in the DePalmas' kitchen showed only a 1-in-180 quadrillion chance that someone other than Jardin drank from the container; several items from the DePalmas' home were found in Jardin's home, and a key from the couple's green Kia Sportage was found tucked into the driver's seat of Jardin's pickup truck.
Tuesday's verdict indicated that jurors may or may not have believed that Jardin was an active participant in the slayings of the DePalmas. The first-degree murder charge allows a defendant to be found guilty even if he didn't wield the murder weapon. Jurors ultimately convicted Jardin of a pair of lesser charges — burglary of an occupied dwelling and robbery — that didn't involve the use of a weapon.
Jardin's indictment from August 2008 alleges that he stabbed Evelyn DePalma "multiple times with a knife or other sharp-bladed instrument," but later mentions the possibility of the other suspects.
The Sheriff's Office declared the case inactive as of April 15.
"There's no doubt in my mind (Jardin) is the right guy," Hernando sheriff's detective Randy Williamson said after the verdict.
Joel Anderson can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6120.