TAMPA — He held the gun. He had to be persuaded not to kill his two rape victims. The women considered him "the mean one," though he was just 13.
On Wednesday, a judge sent him to prison for life.
Jose Guadalupe Walle, now 15, may be the first U.S. prisoner in two decades to be written off so young for a crime in which no one died. Not since 1990 has a teen been sentenced to life without a chance of release for such acts committed before age 14, according to arguments four months ago before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe predicted Walle would kill if he ever walked the streets again.
"I've taken your client's age into consideration," Tharpe told Walle's attorney. "And I will tell you that this is one of the most disturbing cases that I have ever come across in the 19 years I have been on the bench.
"Your client doesn't have a conscience. He has absolutely no regard for human life.
"If ever there was a case in which the community needs to be protected from someone that's a predator like your client," he said, "this is the case."
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At 13, Walle was a runaway, a middle school dropout hanging out with gang members, a user of LSD, cocaine, Xanax, marijuana and alcohol. He befriended two men, Rigoberto Moron Martinez and Vicente Reyes-Carbajal, both now 22. Police say the three raped women in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
According to a psychiatrist who evaluated him, Walle was intoxicated and had no memory of what happened in Apollo Beach on Aug. 16, 2008.
His victims cannot forget.
In court Wednesday, the women held hands and clutched notes with all the things they wanted to say. They had last seen him during the four-hour nightmare that started at the Docks Bar & Grill and ended when they were told to jump out of a van along Interstate 75.
Deputies say the three men covered the women's mouths with duct tape, kidnapped them in one of their cars and stopped on the dirt shoulder of Noonan Branch Road. They raped them, drove them to an ATM and a gas station and, finally, to a field, where the rapes continued.
"He was the one with the gun the majority of the time," one of the women said. "There was no doubt in my mind that he wanted to kill us.
"He chose to rob us. He chose to abduct us. He chose to rape me.
"My life will never be the same again. I have never, ever regained that sense of mental balance. I will never be able to not look over my shoulder, never be able to sleep sound through the night."
Walle has a third female victim. On Aug. 3, he aimed a gun at a duct-taped kitchen worker to keep him under control, prosecutors say, as Martinez stripped another employee and raped her on the kitchen floor.
Authorities determined evidence doesn't place Walle at the scene of a July home invasion and rape in Gibsonton.
The two other suspects await June trials.
Walle pleaded guilty to the offenses in both counties, which included a dozen armed sexual battery charges and four counts of armed kidnapping — more life felonies than years in his life.
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In court Wednesday, defense attorney Darlene Calzon Barror asked the judge to match the sentence already imposed by the Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court for the St. Petersburg rape: 27 years.
"It at least allows for the defendant to have an opportunity to have a life, perhaps when he is 40 years old," she said.
He heard Walle's parents talk about a good boy who played soccer but started rebelling in middle school. How they caught him smoking marijuana and took him to drug treatment and counseling. How they asked a juvenile court to punish their son, only to see him released.
Jose Walle Sr. said that when his son ran away, four months before the rapes, deputies said the boy would have to commit a crime to be found.
"They didn't care that he was 13 years old and he was out there on the street," said his mother, Karla Infante.
Attorney Barror introduced a psychiatrist who called Walle a "very immature, damaged young man" who had attempted suicide at least once. He said the boy didn't have the mental capacity to understand the criminal nature of his conduct.
Then, the lawyer introduced a U.S. Supreme Court case that has made national headlines recently, Sullivan vs. Florida. Joe Sullivan was convicted of burglary and the rape of a 72-year-old woman in Pensacola in 1989. He was 13. In November, his counsel, Bryan Stevenson, argued that a life sentence at that young an age for a crime other than killing is unconstitutional, saying it violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. The court has yet to rule on the case.
Walle's attorney echoed the arguments sometimes made by critics of life sentences for juveniles: Walle's age diminished his judgment. He was influenced by older men. Life sentences are disproportionately doled out to minorities. A teen's demeanor may mask genuine remorse.
Only two boys across the country have been sentenced to spend their lives in prison for crimes other than homicide committed at age 13, according to the Supreme Court argument: Sullivan and Ian Manuel, who shot and wounded a woman in a Tampa robbery in 1990.
Prosecutor Rita Peters said Walle was caught with a weapon in jail. She read aloud his words to a presentencing interviewer:
"Man, f--- this s---. It looks like you don't believe anything I'm telling you. I can see it in your face. I told you I'm a nice guy, but if you mess with me, I have no problem killing you."
In court on Wednesday, Walle's words were fewer. After mumbling about drugs, he said, "I'm sorry."
Tharpe addressed the parents: "Parents have a responsibility as well. And the idea of people blaming the system for the acts of their children, I believe, is repulsive."
As for Walle's age, the judge said: "I did not have a child while I was sitting on the juvenile bench that did not know the difference between right and wrong. Not once."
As for the Supreme Court, the judge said: "I hope the Supreme Court in its infinite wisdom takes into consideration that every case is different . . . and they don't issue an opinion that takes every case into a vacuum."
And finally, he addressed Walle: "It is this court's intention that you never, ever walk the streets again."
Upon hearing the sentence, one rape victim leaned over and kissed the other on the cheek, then hugged her. They both cried as they walked out of the courtroom, leaving Walle behind.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3354.