Sunday, January 21, 2018
Public safety

East Lake teen's killer sentenced to 33 years in prison

OLDSMAR — Tyler Slipko called his grandmother to say he'd be a little late returning the Toyota she had let him borrow.

Slipko said he was sorry and that he loved her. It was about 6 p.m. on July 21, 2011.

Soon after hanging up, the East Lake 18-year-old was shot twice in the head at close range. He was left for dead on a wooded trail at the end of a cul-de-sac in Oldsmar.

Three days later, as Slipko lay dying in a hospital, his 16-year-old friend Diamonte Weatherspoon of Oldsmar was arrested on murder charges.

Now Weatherspoon has been sentenced to 33 years in prison for killing Slipko. Last week he began serving his time at Lancaster Correctional Institution, a lockup for youth offenders near Gainesville.

"I'm happy that they caught him and that he's been sentenced. I feel safer now that he's in prison," said Slipko's mother, Lynn Hanratty. "What happened was so wrong and so devastating. Tyler was a great young man with a very large heart for everyone around him. He was just in the wrong place."

Slipko had been adopted as an infant from an orphanage in Bogota, Colombia. The teenager loved music, the occasional pickup game of hoops, and keeping himself fit.

He lived with his mother and grandmother in a house near East Lake High School. He had once attended East Lake High, but later transferred to Life Skills Center North Pinellas, a charter school on McMullen-Booth Road that lets students from ages 16 to 21 work at their own pace.

Slipko's mother had never met his school friend Weatherspoon, who was known as "Tay." But after he died, the boys' mutual friends told investigators that Weatherspoon robbed people, including a marijuana dealer.

On the night of the shooting, prosecutors say, Weatherspoon stole money and a cellphone from Slipko, as well as his grandmother's 1994 champagne-colored Toyota Camry. After the shooting, other friends saw Weatherspoon driving the Camry.

He had left Slipko to die in the woods at the end of Gray Bark Drive, located off Tampa Road. There, a trail that meanders between neighborhoods serves as a hangout for local kids. A man walking his dog found the mortally wounded teen.

Weatherspoon, who is now 17, was charged with first-degree murder but pleaded guilty to second-degree murder.

Assistant Public Defender Dwight Wolfe said he and his client disagreed with the prosecutors' view of what happened that day, but that he couldn't speak further without his client's permission.

Of Weatherspoon's 33-year prison sentence, 25 years was a minimum mandatory sentence on a gun charge, meaning he must serve every day of it.

Counting the time he has already served in jail, his official release date from prison is in July 2044, although he could conceivably get out by 2036.

After Slipko died, his family requested that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Times staff writer Curtis Krueger and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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