Paul Carruthers always has been known for his compassion. He dedicated his life to working with children. He and his wife Kathryn even adopted one, an abused boy named Jimmy Murphy.
When Jimmy's brother Eddie got out of prison, he too benefited from the couple's generosity, moving into their Redington Beach home.
But four years ago, Jimmy, then 16, raped the son of a family friend. And this year, Jimmy's brother Eddie killed Mrs. Carruthers, later telling detectives he strangled her after an argument.
Eddie Murphy pleaded guilty to first-degree murder Tuesday. Circuit Judge Tim Peters sentenced him to life in prison. Then prosecutor Tim Hessinger said Carruthers had a request: Could he speak to the man who killed his wife?
The 22-year-old with disheveled hair and a tangled beard did not want to talk. Murphy did not even glance at his benefactor.
"I was going to ask him to tell me the truth," Carruthers said later, trembling. "I don't believe his story. I was hoping he would sense this is over now, and he could tell me the truth about what happened."
When Eddie Murphy lived with the couple, he seemed to be a clean-cut young man determined to make a fresh start. He had found a job as a dishwasher. The three of them shared plenty of good times, Carruthers said.
"He has this goofy little laugh, and Kathryn would kid him about it," Carruthers said. "She would do the laugh back at him. Then they would both sit there and laugh."
Now those happy memories have been shattered. Jimmy Murphy, who is now in prison for rape, shares in Carruthers' grief.
"Jimmy can't believe it's true," Carruthers said. "He's taking it badly."
The brothers had a horrific childhood. State child welfare workers said the boys' biological father frequently beat the children with belts and electric cords and repeatedly raped Jimmy. Eddie and Jimmy Murphy and their three siblings were abandoned by their parents in 1984.
Jimmy Murphy, who is mildly retarded and partly deaf, bounced from one juvenile facility to another, eventually being assigned to Carruthers _ perhaps the first bit of good fortune in Jimmy Murphy's life. In 1989, the Carrutherses took Jimmy Murphy into their home, and, in 1991, they adopted him. Jimmy was so big and muscular, and could be so destructive, that he often got in trouble. He once punched Carruthers.
"Paul did everything he could _ and then some _ to make Jimmy's life a normal one," said Paul Levine, who prior to becoming a Pinellas County judge was Jimmy's attorney. "It's a tragic family saga."
In 1993, Jimmy Murphy took a 6-year-old friend for a walk, as he had many times before. But this time he molested the boy. After being arrested, Jimmy Murphy admitted the crime. A judge, unswayed by Levine's arguments that Jimmy Murphy needed treatment more than punishment, sent him to prison for 22 years.
Eddie Murphy already was serving time for burglary of an unoccupied structure. When he was released in August 1996, the Carrutherses invited him to stay with them.
Then, in March, Carruthers returned from a house-hunting trip in North Florida to find his wife's dead body lying naked in their bedroom.
Initially, Pinellas deputies charged Eddie Murphy only with stealing the couple's car. But DNA from hairs found on the body and scrapings from under Mrs. Carruthers' fingernails led Detective Tim Pupke to arrest him for the murder.
Eddie Murphy called Carruthers from jail. When Carruthers demanded the truth, he was told that he could not handle the truth, said Hessinger, the prosecutor.
Carruthers said the last time he talked to Eddie Murphy was two months ago. Murphy called to say he was sorry, but acknowledged that "sorry doesn't cover it," Carruthers said.
He told Carruthers he wanted to find a way to spare him and Jimmy Murphy any further pain. The guilty plea avoided putting them through a trial.
Because Eddie Murphy rejected a request to talk Tuesday, Carruthers said he does not want to hear from him again. Even the most compassionate man in the world has his limits.
"I can never forgive Eddie," Carruthers said. "If God can, then that's up to him, but I can't."