TAMPA — Circuit Judge Chet A. Tharpe disagreed with a U.S. Supreme Court decision forcing him to resentence teenage rapist Jose Walle, who was only 13 when he terrorized two Apollo Beach waitresses at gunpoint.
But on Wednesday, he obeyed the high court, which deemed life sentences unconstitutional for juveniles who didn't kill.
Walle hung his head as Tharpe sentenced him to 65 years in prison, which he will begin to serve after completing the 27 years he got in Pinellas for another rape.
Taking into consideration credits prisoners get, the 16-year-old would be about 91 when he gets a chance at freedom.
The defense, which had asked for 27 years to run concurrent to the Pinellas sentence, plans to appeal. The Supreme Court ruling requires a meaningful opportunity for release.
Prosecutors said even a 75-year sentence would have guaranteed that, taking into consideration Walle's life expectancy and the multiple life felonies he committed. Assistant State Attorney Rita Peters argues that the ruling applies to each crime, not the cumulative years of the sentences for multiple crimes.
But Robert Batey, a criminal law professor at Stetson University College of Law, thinks the Supreme Court was most concerned about the total sentence in comparison to the juvenile's age. He believes the defense can make a good argument that Tharpe's sentence violates the ruling.
An appellate court may have to decide how consecutive sentences weigh into the math.
Tharpe adhered to the spirit of his original sentence, when he said he needed to protect the public from Walle, whom Tharpe was certain would one day kill.
"Jose Walle knew the difference between right and wrong," Tharpe said Wednesday. "He has forfeited his right to live in a free society."
Prosecutors said that on Aug. 16, 2008, Walle and two others attacked the women at the Docks restaurant, kidnapped them, and for four hours robbed and raped them.
It was the last in a string of sexual attacks that summer that also took place in St. Petersburg and Gibsonton.
Walle laughed during an interview with the state Department of Corrections and indicated he was willing to kill anyone who messed with him, prosecutors said.
To his victims, he was "the mean one."
The women held each other as the judge announced his sentence. In March, they stood in the same courtroom and told the judge they still can't sleep through the night. Walle said he was going to kill them, and they believed him.
This time, they didn't need to say anything. Tharpe remembered.
He listened to a defense psychiatrist talk about how Walle's brain wasn't fully developed at 13, how drugs and puberty impaired his decisionmaking, how he needs a mentor and has never had the opportunity to play board games.
Tharpe listened to attorneys reiterate the high court's opinion that a life sentence without parole at such a young age is "cruel and unusual punishment."
Then, he spoke.
"Let me start out by saying, what's wrong with this picture? Shouldn't our focus be first and foremost on the welfare of the victims? Is it not cruel and unusual punishment for the victims to have endured the rage, the brutality, the terror that your client exacted upon them?
"What about the fact that these ladies have to live the rest of their lives worrying about whether or not they will become a victim again of another person like Jose Walle …
"Isn't that cruel and unusual punishment?"
He said the juvenile system sends kids the wrong message. He said the right message to send is that grave crimes bring about grave punishments, regardless of age.
"Why don't we focus our money and our resources and our time on fixing the problems as opposed to trying to coddle a Jose Walle?"
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.