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Teen avoids life without parole in Pasco murder case

Harleme Larry, 18, is led from the courtroom after being sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 25 years on Wednesday at the Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

Harleme Larry, 18, is led from the courtroom after being sentenced to life with the possibility of parole in 25 years on Wednesday at the Sumner Judicial Center in Dade City.

DADE CITY — Harleme Larry's mother was killed by his stepfather with a heavy audiotape player. Jeremy Vargas bludgeoned Theresa to death in an abandoned house on July 6, 1999. Larry was 3.

In the following years, he disrupted classes in school. One time he hit a teacher. Juvenile charges stacked up.

Twice, the courts sent him to diversion programs. When he came home, his family thought he was better in some ways, worse in others. Juvenile justice officials described him as a habitual truant who earned mostly D's and F's. His discipline history is eight pages long.

On the night of July 10, 2010, he approached four men sitting on a truck bed on Oak Street in Dade City. He asked for money with a gun in his hand. They offered him a beer. He killed Agustin Hernandez, a married father of two, in a robbery that netted him $4. Larry was 14. Jurors deliberated 10 hours in June and found him guilty of first-degree murder.

On Wednesday, the now 18-year-old with a soft voice stood before Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa to find out how many of his future birthdays he would spend behind metal bars.

"This is a situation that requires much reflection," Siracusa said.

The proceedings had been postponed twice, most recently because Siracusa wanted to review Larry's detention records.

Siracusa sought the testimony of Dr. Charles Wheaton, who said he felt Larry's behavior while incarcerated was antisocial and anti-authority but didn't necessarily predict his future. Larry's records showed he cursed at detention staff and one time told a deputy to shut up. Another time he hit a sergeant.

"Is there anything that suggests he's not capable of being rehabilitated in the future?" Siracusa asked the doctor.

"No," Wheaton said. "There's nothing to suggest that."

In Florida, someone convicted of first-degree murder has two sentencing options — the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility for parole. However, a 2012 U.S. Supreme Court case — Miller vs. Alabama — struck down mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles. It meant Siracusa had more leeway in his sentencing, and was not mandated to sentence Larry to life.

"A life without the possibility of redemption isn't appropriate for a 14-year-old," he said.

Siracusa left the courtroom to write the last paragraph of his sentencing order, and Larry stood up in his striped orange and white uniform and stretched. A few family members sat in the back of the courtroom.

When Siracusa returned, Larry's lawyers said Larry wanted to tell the judge he hoped to learn a trade in prison so he could one day be a productive member of society.

Siracusa sentenced Larry to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 25 years. Larry did not react, and his family sat quietly. A few moments later, Larry stood up and a deputy took his fingerprints. As he walked out, he looked at his uncle.

"Call me tomorrow," his uncle said.

"All right," Larry said, and was led away.

Teen avoids life without parole in Pasco murder case 09/18/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 9:34pm]
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