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Man guilty of using wife to kill woman before trial

Sandra Rozzo wanted to tell a jury that Timothy Humphrey had sexually assaulted her, testimony that could have put him in prison for 10 years.

But Rozzo never got the chance to testify. She was murdered a month before the start of the trial.

Friday night, a jury took about 2 1/2 hours to convict Humphrey of first-degree murder for coaching his young wife, Ashley, to kill Rozzo.

"What this case is about is Sandra," prosecutor Fred Schaub told jurors during closing argument. "She wanted her day in court . . . and Sandra never got that opportunity. He played the judge, he played her jury and, ultimately, he played this young lady's executioner."

Rozzo's family members, including her mother and sister, smiled through tears as the verdict was read. Humphrey, surrounded by his attorneys, flushed red and swallowed hard.

"She didn't want anyone else to get hurt by Timothy Humphrey," Rozzo's sister, Tracy Havlicek, said after the verdict. "If she had to die to get him off the streets, then that's what she'd do."

Testimony begins Monday to determine if Humphrey should receive the death penalty or life without the chance of parole. Havlicek said the family "could go either way," especially since Humphrey told friends before Rozzo's death that he feared prison.

Rozzo was ambushed in her Pinellas Park garage and shot eight times on July 5, 2003. Police began to suspect Humphrey because of the pending case against him in which Rozzo was the complainant. They also learned he had married a 20-year-old woman the day before the murder.

Ashley Humphrey was an impressionable woman from a broken home who worked at a Planet Smoothie. She met Timothy Humphrey at a Brandon gym where he was a personal trainer. Humphrey told Ashley he starred in college football bowl games, played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and modeled underwear - all lies.

They began dating; she fell in love and eventually moved in with him. He soon began grooming her to kill for him, prosecutors said. They married on July 4, 2003.

Ashley Humphrey took the stand earlier this week and admitted she shot Rozzo, but said her husband pressured her into it and coached her the entire way.

Ashley Humphrey was charged with murder, and agreed to testify against him in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence. Now 23, she will get out in her mid 40s.

Timothy Humphrey was charged as a principal to first-degree murder because he masterminded the killing.

"He pointed a firearm at Sandra Rozzo," Schaub told jurors. "That firearm he pointed at Sandra was Ashley Humphrey."

In his closing, Schaub abandoned his podium at times to lecture the jury from the witness stand. He strode across the courtroom, pointed at Humphrey and raised his voice. One veteran defense attorney who watched the trial said it was the best closing argument he had ever seen.

"The facts are clear," Schaub told jurors, "that it takes two to tango and he was involved from the get-go. He was pulling the strings."

A key piece of evidence, other than Ashley Humphrey's testimony, was cell phone records that showed the couple talked two dozen times around the time of the murder. The calls also showed she was near Rozzo's Pinellas Park home while her husband was at his apartment in Brandon.

Timothy Humphrey ordered two pizzas for delivery to provide himself an alibi, then forced a friend to provide his young bride a false alibi for the night of the shooting. But the cell phone records unraveled the coverup and the friend recanted the alibi.

Humphrey's defense attorney, Joseph McDermott, had argued that Ashley Humphrey committed the murder on her own.

Family members said Rozzo's courage saved countless other women who could have been harmed by Timothy Humphrey.

"She's a hero," said Havlicek. "She really is a hero."