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He wanted death, got life

Timothy Humphrey orchestrated the murder of Sandee Rozzo so her testimony in a sexual assault trial wouldn't send him to prison for 10 years.

He told friends he would prefer death to prison time.

On Monday, a jury ensured that he didn't get his wish.

Jurors deliberated about 90 minutes before recommending that Humphrey be spared the death penalty but get life in prison without the chance of parole.

Several jurors said they thought the life sentence was the harsher of the penalties.

"If we gave him death, we would have given him what he wanted," juror Dana Aldrich said.

Pinellas Circuit Judge Nancy Moate Ley followed the jury's recommendation and sentenced Humphrey, 39, to life in prison.

"The irony of this, of course, is the murder has resulted in a much longer prison sentence than the 10 years," Ley told Humphrey.

Rozzo's family also was pleased with the life term.

"He didn't want to be there, so now they can lock him up and throw away the key, and that's that," said Rozzo's sister, Tracy Havlicek.

In 2002, Rozzo accused Humphrey, a former co-worker, of sexually assaulting her. Prosecutors filed a felony battery charge against Humphrey and planned to seek a 10-year prison term.

Humphrey has a history of violence toward women. Investigators counted eight women he had abused, including one he kidnapped and assaulted in Miami in 1995, charges that landed him in prison.

Rozzo knew of Humphrey's past and felt she was in danger. Family members asked her to drop the case. But they said Rozzo wanted to testify so Humphrey couldn't harm any more women.

As the case was pending trial, Humphrey, a personal trainer at a Brandon gym, began dating a 19-year-old client. They moved in together, and on July 4, 2003, a notary married them.

Ashley Humphrey was an impressionable young woman from a broken home who had fallen fast in love with the man nearly twice her age, prosecutors said. Throughout the relationship, she listened as her husband-to-be fretted about going back to prison.

So the night after their wedding, Ashley Humphrey followed Rozzo home from work. She ambushed Rozzo in her garage and shot her eight times, then she got into her car and left, prosecutors said.

Rozzo's boyfriend found her in her car, bloodied and unconscious. Rozzo, 37, a mother of a then-13-year-old girl, died en route to the hospital.

At the time of the shooting, Timothy Humphrey was at his Brandon apartment, ordering a pizza. The receipt of that delivery was his alibi.

But he and Ashley had talked many times on their cell phones that night, and tower records showed Ashley had followed Rozzo home, then quickly left the area right after the shooting - nearly the whole time talking with her husband on the cell phone.

Both Humphreys eventually were charged with murder. Ashley later accepted a deal to testify against her husband in exchange for a 25-year prison sentence. She said he manipulated and threatened her into killing for him.

After two weeks of trial, jurors on Friday convicted Humphrey of first-degree murder. They returned Monday to decide whether to recommend a death sentence.

Prosecutor Fred Schaub, who on Friday had delivered a scorching closing argument, was much more low-key Monday. He told jurors the murder could qualify for the death penalty because it was particularly cold and calculated; Humphrey has a history of violent crimes; and the murder was committed to eliminate a witness.

Schaub particularly stressed that last point. He noted that two witnesses in the murder case were scared to testify because of Rozzo's death.

"For our system to work, we need to ensure the safety of witnesses," Schaub said.

Defense attorney Richard Watts told jurors a death sentence wasn't appropriate because the actual shooter will receive a 25-year sentence. Ashley Humphrey is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

"The mitigation in this case is Ashley Humphrey's sentence," Watts told jurors.

Several jurors said they agreed.

Jurors said they found Ashley Humphrey's testimony compelling, though they also were impressed with the evidence collected by Pinellas Park police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

"Everything she said was corroborated by evidence," said juror Kristen Clark.

Timothy Humphrey took the stand late last week to refute his wife's claims, which was risky. Several courtroom observers had predicted the move, saying the confident Humphrey likely believed he could charm the jury.

But jurors said his testimony didn't go over well.

During testimony, Humphrey said he had no prior knowledge of his wife's plan to murder Rozzo. However, he admitted to figuring out she had shot Rozzo, then trying to create an alibi for her. But jurors said he slipped up on the stand and used the phrase "our alibi."

"I just didn't believe what he was telling the jury," said juror Brian Russell.