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20-year-old sentenced to 30 years for murder

Beatrice James looked her son's killer in the eye Tuesday and told him how badly he hurt her family. Then, as 20-year-old Jerome Matthews faced a 30-year prison sentence, she wished him luck.

"God knows I pray about this, and whatever you don't get in jail, God will take care of it," Mrs. James, standing only feet away from Matthews, said to him.

Matthews, who was 17 at the time of the murder, was charged with shooting into a car where 16-year-old Frankie Oneal James was sitting with a friend.

Matthews, of 2529 36th St. S in St. Petersburg, was charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder and could have faced a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for 25 years.

On Tuesday, the day his trial was to begin, he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and attempted murder, and Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Susan F. Schaeffer sentenced him to 30 years in prison, concurrent with a 15-year sentence for attempted murder. The sentence also includes a three-year mandatory sentence because Matthews used a gun.

Police called it a random shooting in which Matthews shot and injured 17-year-old Michael Eric Butler of Clearwater and killed James of Largo as they sat in a car at a stop sign at 29th Street and 22nd Avenue S in St. Petersburg.

Matthews pulled up behind them as they were stopped and got out on the passenger side, went up to the car and fired, striking James in the upper torso and Butler in the knee. Butler managed to drive to Bayfront Medical Center, where James was pronounced dead on arrival.

A motive was never establish and it was described as a random shooting, though Matthews' attorney speculated that drugs may have been involved.

However, at the time of the shooting, Mrs. James said her son was never involved in drugs.

"Frankie was a very popular child, and he was mischievous, but he had never been in trouble with police," she said at the time. "I'm positive he had never used drugs. He had the exposure and the street knowledge, but he did not use drugs."

Defense attorney Tom McCoun said it was a tragic case involving teens and guns.

"It's a case where one 17-year-old kid had access to guns and kills another," he said. "It speaks loudly to gun control. Take these guns away from kids and let them hit each other instead."

Mrs. James told Matthews that she overheard his family talking about the pain they were going through because of this case, but they cannot understand the pain of losing her son.

"You can't believe how hurt I feel," she said. "Frankie had a 19-year-old handicapped brother who talks about him every day. And it's been three years. I will live with this the rest of my life."