TAMPA — The family of the former pro wrestler run down by a convicted murderer last summer didn't come to court Wednesday looking for revenge.
They came to beg a judge not to let Harry Brian Taylor have a chance to kill for a third time. And he listened.
"You've killed once. You've killed twice," Judge Ronald Ficarrotta told Taylor, 38. "You have definitely forfeited the privilege to live among a free society."
Taylor was sentenced to life in prison for running down motorcyclist John Michael Meek, 52, on Aug. 29. He will not have a chance at parole.
"I would have preferred the death sentence over anything," said Meek's eldest sister, Julie Holland, 54. "But we'll have to take it. We just hope he can't get out again."
Holland and other family members implored Ficarrotta to consider what happened the last time Taylor was sent away for murder. He received a 40-year sentence for killing a Marion County man with a butcher knife in a 1988 robbery, but was released after 12 years because of prison overcrowding and good behavior, something that could not happen under today's law.
Then he killed again. On Aug. 29, prosecutors say Taylor was offended that Meek, a former wrestler known to his friends as Uncle Ugly, rebuffed his attempt to make conversation at James' Place bar on U.S. 301. When Meek left the bar on his motorcycle, Taylor followed him in his van and ran him over.
A jury found him guilty of murder this month, but on Wednesday, Taylor told Meek's family that his death was an accident. Taylor, who did not testify at his trial and showed no emotion throughout, broke down in tears just a few sentences into his remarks.
"Regardless of what they say about me, I'm not an evil person or a monster," he said. "… I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Meek's family didn't buy it. "He was only crying because he's going to prison," said sister Shannon Bruton, 51.
Ficarrotta seemed to think as much. "You sat in that bar. You told people, 'I'm going to hunt that guy down,' " Ficarrotta told Taylor. "And that's exactly what you did."
Thomas Kaplan can be reached at (813) 226-3404 or firstname.lastname@example.org.