TAMPA — Just sentenced to life in prison for premeditated murder, Venecia DePaula smiled politely as she was escorted out of the courtroom. She turned to bailiffs and court personnel and addressed them with the soft, sweet voice she'd used all week.
"Thank you very much," she said as her trial ended Thursday.
The same woman had killed the man she said she loved, the father of her unborn child. She stood over him as he slept, held a 9mm Beretta semiautomatic an inch away from his head and pulled the trigger.
There was never a doubt she did it — her attorney conceded as much. The trial this week hinged on her state of mind in the early morning hours of Aug. 3, 2009.
Did she plan to kill 29-year-old Felipe Perez?
They were together for a few years and she was six months pregnant. But in his mind, they were no longer a couple. Unable to pay rent on his own, he stayed with DePaula but he had a new girlfriend, a blond he'd met at the gym.
The former couple still traded text messages expressing unresolved drama.
"I'm feeling bad for everything that's happened," Perez wrote to DePaula that July. "Why were you unfaithful to me? I'm not good as a man?"
In a response, DePaula asked him if he felt bad when he was having sex with other women.
She walked into a gun shop the day after that exchange and paid cash for a revolver. Unwilling to wait for approval for that gun, she found another in a newspaper classified ad and paid cash for it the night of Aug. 2.
She killed Perez hours later.
Her attorney, Bryant Camareno, argued she bought the gun to commit suicide. He cited text messages she sent making provisions in case anything happened to her. In opening statements, he had told jurors DePaula was depressed and blacked out when she fired the gun.
But DePaula decided not to take the stand, so jurors did not hear that story from her.
They didn't see any reaction from her when she heard she was guilty of first-degree murder.
There was no reaction, either, when Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles said, "This was a cold and brutal crime. You took a life. Now, the law in Florida requires that you pay with the remainder of your life."
But two other women did cry — DePaula's mother, left to raise her daughter's children; and Perez's wife, Jadie Serra, long separated from him but still a friend.
Serra said, "I feel bad for her kids. I feel bad for his kids."
She is haunted by one of the last things her husband told her, days before he died. It's something jurors never heard from prosecutors, kept from using it by laws that govern evidence.
Perez told his wife his ex-girlfriend had told him something:
She was going to kill him.
Times photographer Melissa Lyttle contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.