NEW PORT RICHEY — The son killed his mother.
A jury decided that's what happened on April 17, 2007, inside the two-bedroom, corner-lot home at 8030 Hathaway Drive in New Port Richey. Ryan Young, 26, was convicted Friday of the first-degree murder of Donna Young and sentenced to life in prison.
This matricide trial lasted all week in the courtroom of Circuit Judge Michael F. Andrews. The state called 21 witnesses, and the defense called two. Prosecutor Mike Halkitis and Public Defender Dean Livermore made their closing arguments Friday morning.
The jurors, six men and six women, went out at 11:11 a.m. They came back with a verdict a little more than five hours later.
"Ryan," Donna Young's sister, Janet Crouse, said outside the courtroom, "has a black hole where the rest of us have a beating heart."
All week long, and again in his closing, Halkitis told the jurors that Young killed his mother by suffocating her with her pillow and then tried to make the murder look like a random burglary turned fatal. Young did this, Halkitis suggested, because he was broke and was going to get everything his mother had when she died, and also because she was unhappy that he had announced he was gay.
In the end, and more than anything else, Young's own words were the most damning pieces of evidence against him.
He told investigators after lengthy questioning that "he didn't mean to."
Also: "I was happy she was dead."
The state's version of the story went like this:
Donna Young, 52, was killed on April 17, 2007, sometime between 2 and 3 a.m. Ryan Young's car, or a car that looked like his car, a white Toyota sedan, was caught on a surveillance tape in a parking lot near his mother's home. It arrived just after 2. It left just after 3.
Then, the story went, he went back the next morning, when he "found" her body, opened some drawers, cut a window screen and dumped her purse out onto the kitchen counter. That's when he called 911.
He talked to detectives that day even though he wasn't under arrest and didn't have to talk. He talked, talked more, kept talking. Pretty quickly, Halkitis said, he got caught in a "cornucopia of lies."
Livermore countered in his closing.
He stressed to jurors that Young was innocent until proved guilty and that the state always has the burden of proof. He asked them to not take anything at face value and to not jump to conclusions. He told the jurors they were "safeguards against tyranny."
And he reminded them that there was no physical proof that showed Ryan Young caused the death of his mother.
"There is no direct evidence," Livermore said, "unless you believe that tape."
Young's own words.
The last words jurors heard, though, were those in Halkitis' closing argument.
The prosecutor told jurors Young didn't even start to cry and sob until he had been with investigators for a couple hours and it was becoming clear that he was getting mixed up in his own changing stories.
Halkitis quoted Yogi Berra.
"You can observe a lot by just watching."
He quoted John Locke.
"I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts."
He also took the pillow that killed Donna Young out from its evidence bag. He put it on a table in the courtroom. He used both hands and started to press down on it.
It takes three to five minutes to suffocate someone. That's the bare minimum.
Halkitis talked to the jurors about what it might have been like that night at Donna Young's home. He kept talking about what Ryan Young had done. He kept pressing down.
"Pressing and pressing," he said.
One minute went by.
"Pressing and pressing."
"Pressing down, pressing down, pressing down."
He stopped. He looked at the jurors.
"Two reasons," he said.
"Greed and vengeance."
Michael Kruse can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (727) 869-6244.