After pleading guilty Tuesday to attempted murder in her younger brother's near-drowning, Victoria Rupple did something she had never done before in court.
She smiled at the mention of Michael, who was 9 when authorities say his sister tied a green rag around his neck and held him under water in a bathtub last August. He was having convulsions when paramedics reached him in their Wesley Chapel home.
Victoria, who was 15 then, fled to Tampa and hid for 45 days. Michael went to intensive care.
Since her arrest in October, Victoria has been held without bail at the Pasco County jail. In hearing after hearing, she was either stone-faced or weeping.
Last month, Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa agreed to lift an order barring her from contacting Michael. Her father, Shane Rupple, said Victoria, now 16, wanted to write him a letter.
On Tuesday, Shane Rupple said the siblings had spoken twice on the phone.
That's when Victoria smiled.
She answered "good" when Siracusa asked her how she was feeling. He told her he hoped the next time he saw her would be at the mall, instead of in a courtroom.
Or, she suggested after glimpsing his computer screen saver, at a Florida Gators game.
"I'm glad to hear from your father that you're having contact with (Michael) and that's working out," Siracusa told her. "I'm sure that's a great relief to you as well."
In a deal worked out with prosecutors, Victoria will spend the next nine months in a secure psychiatric facility, where she will receive counseling and medication.
After that, she'll have more counseling for at least 18 months.
She'll be on probation until she turns 21. She'll have no unsupervised contact with her brother - or any other young children.
Her public defender, Dillon Vizcarra, said it's the best outcome.
"We needed to get her some mental help," he said.
Victoria's mother, he said, committed suicide in 2003. That was after she had terminated her parental rights to Victoria and Michael.
"That caused a lot of turmoil and anguish for her," Vizcarra said. "She missed her mother dearly."
Still, no one anticipated the events of last Aug. 6.
"She was always very close and protective of her brother. That's why this was so shocking and mind-blowing that she would ever hurt him," he said. "There just wasn't any motive."
Shane Rupple told the judge Tuesday that Michael is doing "fantastic." Vizcarra said the boy has recovered physically from the episode.
As she shuffled out of court in handcuffs, Victoria held up her hand in an "I love you" sign to her dad. He blew her a kiss in return.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at (352) 521-6521 or email@example.com.