BROOKSVILLE — From the back of the courtroom Friday, Ken Sanford watched silently as Benjamin Jablon received a nine-year prison sentence.
He didn't know the elderly Spring Hill couple Jablon assaulted last year after burglarizing their home. But he took solace in the 22-year-old's conviction and his fate in a way few in the courtroom understood.
Not long ago, Sanford, 50, watched Jablon leave the courthouse as a free man. Sanford returned to feel closure, the amorphous perspective that victims yearn to find in the justice system.
"I wanted to hear the part where (the judge) says 'incarcerated for nine years in the Department of Corrections,'" Sanford said.
This eluded him the first time after a jury acquitted Jablon in March 2007. In that case, Jablon faced attempted murder charges for an attack that left a Pizza Hut delivery man near death.
The delivery man was Sanford's 21-year-old son, Russell.
"I still remember them putting my son in the helicopter with his head all mashed in," Sanford said. "I didn't even recognize him."
Two men attacked Russell Sanford as he delivered several pizzas to a house on Crescent Road. They beat him with a metal baseball bat, fracturing his skull twice and leaving him in a pool of blood as they took cash, the pizzas and his car.
Jablon and Devin Politis were subsequently charged in that attack. Politis pleaded guilty and received 15 years in prison. He testified against his friend, but Jablon's defense attorneys convinced a jury their client was not involved.
Russell Sanford doesn't remember much about what happened, which has helped him move on with his life and make a recovery. He's in his second year of college in New York state studying information technology.
But his father took longer. "I didn't (move on) because I knew (Jablon) is a predator and I knew … that it was going to happen again," Ken Sanford said.
Four months after his acquittal, Jablon was arrested after he broke into a Spring Hill home July 17, 2007. He stole about $300 in cash and jewelry and roughed up the elderly homeowners as he fled.
Confronted by authorities, he confessed. As he was being taken to jail, Jablon told the deputies, "You … are just pissed off 'cause I beat that Pizza Hut rap."
Jablon's defense attorney, public defender Alan Fanter, tried to get the statements and evidence suppressed because he maintains his client was "induced into making statements," but a judge disagreed.
In an unusual move, Assistant State Attorney Don Barbee, the Brooksville office's top prosecutor, handled the case himself.
He said Jablon fancied himself as a gang leader and felt above the law. "That's the problem when someone wins at trial," Barbee said. "They feel bulletproof."
The elder Sanford first read of the new arrest in the newspaper. "I thought, 'Unbelievable,' " he recalled Friday.
The self-employed business owner took off work to attend Jablon's first court hearing and kept in touch with deputies. When he heard about the plea deal, he didn't want to miss it.
It took a year and a half, but in the end, he said, "This is closure for me."
John Frank can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6114.