One of Christopher Lee Wehland's cellmates asked him if he really had to kill the woman whose car he hijacked at a Gulfport McDonald's.
The cellmate said Wehland replied, "Everybody's got that date. Hers just came early."
A jury Thursday ensured that Wehland's own date would come behind bars when, after five hours of deliberations, it convicted him of first-degree murder for the shooting death of Deborah Fleischner on May 10, 2001. Fleischner was killed as she resisted Wehland's efforts to steal her car.
After a four-day trial, Wehland showed no emotion as the Pinellas-Pasco jury returned its verdict and Circuit Judge Richard Luce imposed the only sentence allowed by law: life with no possibility of parole.
Wehland, 24, watched with his hands shoved into his pockets, his tie draped around his neck in a loose knot.
"It is truly a tragedy," Luce said. "This woman was taken and literally your life was thrown away that day. You'll have a lot of time to think about it. You'll have a lifetime to think about it."
Fleischner's sister, Hilary Scott, who was not present, said in a letter to the court that her sister was just starting to enjoy financial security and looking forward to life when she was killed.
Scott told Luce, "I feel that he should not be given the opportunity to experience life or his future in the outside world as Debbie will never again be able to do."
Fleischner, 50, had eaten dinner at the McDonald's at 5111 Gulfport Blvd., and just before 6 p.m. walked out of the restaurant.
Wehland tried to grab the keys to her 2000 Hyundai Accent and flee with her car. Prosecutors Bob Lewis and Bruce Bartlett said Wehland wanted to use the car in a robbery.
But Fleischner fought him, even after he fired two warning shots into the back seat and screamed, "I'll kill you!"
He raised the gun, prosecutors said, and fired a shot at point-blank range through Fleischner's chest.
Police later linked Wehland to the crime by a partial fingerprint recovered from the car. Multiple witnesses also identified him for police after his arrest. Wehland lived within blocks of the point where the car was recovered in Clearwater.
"I don't know what happened to you," Luce said. "You have a nice family. . . . I do know what happened to Deborah Fleischner."