TAMPA — "Look at me," Heidi Damon told the teenager who tried to rape and murder her in an Ybor City parking garage two years ago. In court Wednesday, Javon Cooper, now 18, only looked away.
As Damon began, she had tears in her eyes, but as she spoke, her eyes dried and her voice grew stronger. She stared at Cooper.
"I woke up ecstatic today," Damon told him, "because I'm alive, alive, alive. I lived to tell the truth. I'm not the victim. I'm the victor. You have not broken my spirit."
Cooper pleaded guilty Monday to attempted murder, attempted rape and aggravated battery. On Wednesday he came back before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe for sentencing.
Sexual assault victims aren't usually identified by the St. Petersburg Times, but Damon said she hoped that by speaking out she would give strength to others.
In 2009, Cooper attacked the 38-year-old woman in the garage at 2010 N 13th St.
He choked her until she lost consciousness. She woke up convulsing, and naked from the waist down. She saw him running away. She hadn't been raped. She thinks her brain seizure, triggered by the suffocation, caused him to break off the attack.
The physical and emotional trauma Damon suffered hasn't gone away. She gets counseling for posttraumatic stress disorder. She suffers headaches but has had no more seizures. She said the attack cost her work as a marketing and sales representative. She still imagines someone sneaking up behind her.
On Wednesday, she told Cooper she was reclaiming her life. "My tears are tears of joy because you are going away," she said. "You alone have destroyed your life. You are the architect of your own agony."
As the judge was about to send Cooper away for 15 years, Damon asked to say one more thing.
Again, she stared Cooper down.
"My name is Heidi Elizabeth Damon. I have a name. I have a name that will go on forever. You have a number and the title of the crimes that you've committed. Your name is Sex Offender, Attempted Murderer. Nice to put you away."
John Barry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.