David "Alex" Bostick is working toward a future that seems tantalizingly within his reach: finishing classes for his high school diploma, becoming an auto mechanic and turning his recent 20-day stint in prison into a distant memory.
"It brought me and my friends and family closer," Bostick said Wednesday of his jail time as he worked under the hood of a friend's car. "It also brought us a whole pile of crap."
And it might not be over.
The Hernando County Sheriff's Office remained bullish Wednesday about its investigation into the grisly October 2006 slayings of Patrick and Evelyn DePalma, a day after prosecutors revealed they were not prepared to press first-degree murder charges against Bostick — the first suspect arrested in connection with the crime.
"We're going to stand by our arrest," said Sgt. Jim Powers, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office. "We had probable cause to make the arrest. … This case is far from being over."
A Hernando County grand jury on Tuesday indicted Robert Jardin, 33, of Brooksville on two counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery, armed burglary and grand theft in the stabbing deaths of the DePalmas in their Masaryktown home. But the prosecutor's refusal to charge Bostick, 18, a distant relative of the elderly couple, revealed a significant twist in the high-profile DePalma investigation.
The arrests of two men earlier this year seemed to provide a bit of relief for the Sheriff's Office and a community haunted for more than 18 months by the unresolved murders. Many Masaryktown residents had come to believe violent crime was something reserved for larger places like Tampa, St. Petersburg or maybe even nearby Spring Hill. But not in the rural quiet of Hernando.
Bostick was arrested April 11 after tips to the Sheriff's Office led investigators to believe they had probable cause to arrest him for murder, authorities said at the time.
According to the arrest report, Bostick agreed to join two male friends to run some errands on the night of Oct. 28, 2006. They ended up at the home of the DePalmas, a couple whom Bostick sometimes referred to as "Uncle Pat" and "Aunt Evelyn."
Bostick told authorities he left to retrieve a phone from the car, and when he returned the DePalmas were dead, stabbed numerous times. One of the two other men was yelling at the other about his temper. Bostick told detectives he noticed one of the two had been carrying a large fixed-blade knife in a sheath. The other two began ransacking the house, and Bostick eventually joined them, investigators said.
In the days after the murders, police took fingerprint and DNA samples from everyone in the family and questioned Bostick for 10 hours, his girlfriend, Cori Benitez, said Wednesday during an interview outside the Bosticks' home in Tampa Palms.
When Bostick was taken into custody months later, his family was stunned.
"People said he should burn in hell," Benitez said. "It was awful."
Bostick, who goes by Alex, spent the next 20 days in the Department of Juvenile Justice holding facility in Ocala, reading letters from family and friends and eagerly awaiting his parents' twice-a-week visits.
Since his release, Bostick has completed online classes to graduate from Freedom High School in Tampa, where he was active in the FFA club and set to graduate this spring. Bostick is now working at his father's business and preparing to take exams for his diploma.
Bostick's attorney, Michael Maddux of Tampa, would like to see a quick resolution so Bostick can move on with his life.
"The prosecution can only proceed with a good-faith basis to believe they can prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt and have a conviction upheld on appeal," Maddux said. "We have cooperated. Our cooperation has demonstrated this standard cannot be satisfied. We are anxious to have this horrible allegation put to rest."
Meanwhile, the Sheriff's Office plans to continue its push to solve the crime. Spokesman Powers said two detectives are working on the case, but he declined to go into any details about the investigation, including whether there is still a third suspect.
"We're going to the fullest on every issue," Powers said. "This investigation is far from concluded, and we don't want to jeopardize that. But we stand by our arrests."
Assistant State Attorney Pete Magrino said it was possible — but far from certain — the Sheriff's Office could file charges against Bostick again.
"That aspect of the investigation is still ongoing," Magrino said. "As of (Tuesday), there was still insufficient evidence to merit the presentment of that."
Meanwhile, members of the DePalma family expressed gratitude to the Sheriff's Office for continuing its pursuit of the case.
"We would like to thank the Hernando County Sheriff's Department for their hard work and dedication to this case," the DePalmas' eldest granddaughter, Sonsee Sanders, said in an e-mail. "We are 100 percent confident that all involved persons will be brought to justice. Our family would also like to thank the community for all of their continued thoughts and prayers. It means so much that our grandparents have not been forgotten."
Joel Anderson can be reached at email@example.com or 754-6120. Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 269-5312.