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Tampa woman shot in face supports gunman's bid for reduced sentence

TAMPA — Ian Manuel was 15 when he sent a letter from prison to the woman he had shot in the face two years earlier in 1990. The boy had drawn a hand reaching out through the bars of a cell. The hand held a red rose.

To this day, Debbie Baigrie doesn't like red roses.

But she is sure of one thing: Ian Manuel is capable of remorse.

She learned that from the letters he sent over the years. That was what led her to a courtroom Friday, where Manuel, now 34, asked for a chance at freedom.

Once serving a life sentence with no chance of parole, Manuel came to court hoping to leave prison while still young. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles can't get life sentences unless they've killed someone. Manuel appeared Friday before Hillsborough Circuit Judge William Fuente for resentencing.

Manuel is a diagnosed sociopath. After 21 years, Baigrie still has bullet shrapnel in her mouth.

But she's glad he has hope.

•••

Baigrie sat directly behind Manuel. She came with her daughter, Laura, who was a year old when her mother was shot. Manuel has broad shoulders and a shaved head and wears wire-rim glasses.

When he turned to Baigrie, she smiled. The scar left by the bullet wound in her right cheek was almost invisible.

Fuente asked the attorneys to remind him when the offense happened.

Baigrie whispered to her daughter: "July 27, 1990."

Baigrie was 28 then. A gym trainer named Danny Delrosal was escorting her to her car in downtown Tampa. Manuel and another boy approached them, at first asking for change for a $20 bill, then demanding money.

Manuel shot Baigrie. She ran and he fired again, that time missing her. He fired at Delrosal, missing again.

The take from the robbery: $3.

•••

Before Manuel shot Baigrie, the boy had committed numerous other violent crimes. His mother had gone to prison when he was a baby. He was sexually abused as a child.

At trial, two psychiatrists diagnosed him as a sociopath, one who showed no guilt or remorse. They gave him little chance of rehabilitation.

In prison, Manuel racked up almost 200 prison disciplinary reports. Forty-three were for obscene or lewd acts. Fourteen were for possession of contraband, including weapons. Four were for arson. He spent the first 18 years in solitary confinement. When he tried to commit suicide, his bed sheets were taken away.

Baigrie blamed the system. From the letters he sent her, she said she realized "he was a child sentenced to an unimaginable situation. Shouldn't he have had an opportunity for rehabilitation?"

Eventually, their correspondence stopped. Some of his letters were disturbing. "Everybody told me he's a sociopath," she said. "I had to come to that realization on my own."

Still, she felt he had shown remorse. And she felt, as the Supreme Court did, that no child should face a prison sentence without hope.

•••

The decision Friday was a complicated one. In 1991, Manuel got three concurrent life sentences — one for armed robbery, one for shooting Baigrie, and one for shooting at Delrosal.

In 2000, his life sentence for the attempted murder of Baigrie was cut to 40 years. But the two other life sentences have always stood.

Delrosal wasn't in court on Friday. Baigrie couldn't testify about his case. She did pass word to the judge through a defense attorney that, in her case, Manuel had expressed remorse.

Manuel asked to speak for himself. He didn't apologize for his crimes but said he regretted the consequences. While he was in prison, he said, his mother, brother and grandmother died. "But I never lost the audacity of hope," he said, paraphrasing President Barack Obama. "It's not too late for me to be what I might have been."

Judge Fuente said he agreed that Manuel showed remorse. "I don't know if it's real or feigned, but he expressed it." He noted that Manuel's original diagnosis of a sociopathic condition has never changed.

Fuente sentenced Manuel to 65 years to run concurrent with his previous 40-year sentence.

That still left Manuel's date of release unknown.

His crimes occurred when the state allowed prisoners to accumulate generous gain time toward early release. It meant that prisoners sometimes served only a third of their sentences. Under the law, Manuel still qualifies. He has nearly served a third of 65 years, which would mean a release soon. But good behavior is the usual condition for gain time. Manuel's 200 disciplinary reports and 18 years of punitive solitary confinement indicate anything but good behavior.

His attorneys wouldn't comment on his prospects.

Tampa woman shot in face supports gunman's bid for reduced sentence 12/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 10:37pm]
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