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Teenager sentenced in tourists' deaths

Published Sep. 16, 2005

In the months since he survived a violent crash with a teenage car thief, Rudy Consoni has had time to think.

He has wondered why, in the mass of twisted metal and shattered glass, his life was spared while his friends, two German tourists, were killed.

And he has questioned a policy allowing police to get into potentially dangerous car chases with young criminals _ only to hand them to a justice system that often lets them go.

"The mayor said he's sorry that it happened, but this is the price of law and order," Consoni said Tuesday. "I can't agree. . . . How can you put a price tag on people's lives?"

On Tuesday, Consoni stood across a courtroom from the teenage driver who previously pleaded guilty in the Dec. 10 deaths of Heinz Bar, 40, and Markus Rossknecht, 37. At the end of an emotional hearing, 17-year-old Albert "A. J." Leshawn Murphy was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 25 years of probation for possessing burglary tools, car burglary and theft, aggravated fleeing and eluding police, leaving the scene and two counts of third-degree murder.

The lanky teenager in the gold-rimmed glasses said in a shaky voice that he hoped the dead men's families might someday forgive him.

"I have the victims' names in my Bible," he said. "I walk around the jail with it in my pocket every day."

Consoni had known Bar, who managed a vacation resort in the Canary Islands, and Rossknecht, a tennis pro there, for more than a decade. The three had worked together at a hotel in Spain.

Before their visit to see Consoni in St. Petersburg, Bar had made a grim joke about the recent murders of German tourists in Florida, saying if he came here, he might not make it home.

"Obviously, it's not a joke right now," Consoni said.

The men arrived Dec. 4, walked the beaches, paddled canoes on the Hillsborough River and cheered at a hockey game. The night before they were scheduled to fly home, they all went out in Tampa.

In the early morning hours, a police officer saw several teenagers with screwdrivers jump into a car that had been reported stolen. The chase began and continued for several miles. One of the teenagers later said he begged Murphy to stop.

The stolen 1992 Honda sped south on West Shore Boulevard, flew through the intersection at Gandy Boulevard and smashed into Consoni's car.

At the hearing, prosecutor Paul Sisco played a paramedic's videotape of the horror of the scene: broken glass, wreckage, a bleeding face, a white sheet over a body. Consoni did not watch. Murphy bowed his head and wept.

Murphy's mother, Janet Summers, said she searched for him all day after police came looking for him. When she found him in the woods, he would not look at her.

"He goes, "Mom, they say I killed two people. Did I?' " she said. "I said, "Yes, son, you did.' I said, "You know what we have to do now, don't you?' "

Later, in a deposition, one of the other teenagers in the car said he couldn't remember whether one or two people were killed that night.

But Assistant Public Defender Lisa McLean called Murphy "the most remorseful person I have ever dealt with."

"He knows exactly how many people died as a result of his actions," she said.

The victims' families couldn't attend the sentencing Tuesday but sent a homemade video, showing Rossknecht's fiancee and Bar's wife and two daughters, ages 2 and 6.

"The younger thinks that dying is having a holiday in the sky," said Bar's widow, Alexandra Blakstad. "I want him home. I am exhausted with missing him."

Though sentencing guidelines called for 21 to 35 years in prison, Circuit Judge Claudia Isom sentenced Murphy to 35 years suspended after 10. She said she did so because he is young, lacks a serious criminal record, shows deep remorse and appears to be someone who can be rehabilitated.

After the hearing, Consoni expressed frustration for police officers who work hard to arrest juveniles, only to rearrest them again and again.

Even if the teens had been arrested that night and the crash avoided, "those kids would have been sleeping at home" by the end of the night, he said.

"It's not the police that have to get tough on crime," he said. "It's our legal system."