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  1. Hillsborough

Sex offender who fatally stabbed girlfriend in West Tampa sentenced to life in prison

Denise Cogmon was stabbed to death by James Ware in April 2015 at the West Tampa home they shared. Ware was sentenced Tuesday to life in prison. [Courtesy of Willie Pittman]
Published Jun. 25

TAMPA — Willie Pittman said he couldn't have asked for a better mother than Denise Cogmon. She loved her kids. And in the way she battled breast cancer, she taught them how to fight.

So when James Ware fatally stabbed the 60-year-old Cogmon in April 2015, something inside her family died, too, Pittman told a courtroom Tuesday.

"May hell be your final resting place," Pittman told Ware.

Earlier this month, a jury convicted Ware of premeditated first-degree murder in the death of Cogmon, who was his girlfriend.

Pittman asked Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco to sentence Ware, 60, to life in prison without parole.

The judge did so. "You are not fit to live in civil society anymore," Sisco said.

Ware, who had served 22 years in prison for attempted sexual battery and other charges, was living with Cogmon at 2108 La Salle St. in West Tampa when she was reported missing by her family.

Cogmon later was found stabbed to death in her bedroom. Ware disappeared, along with Cogmon's vehicle.

FROM 2015: Police seek sex offender in West Tampa woman's homicide

A day afterward, Ware was taken into custody by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at a relative's home along Gunn Highway. He was found with Cogmon's vehicle.

He told police he was planning to turn himself in and admitted to killing Cogmon, according to a Tampa Police Department report. He said he had acted in self defense after Cogmon threatened him with a knife.

Ware said that, as he stabbed Cogmon, she told him: "I love you, please don't kill me, I have a son and daughter."

After the stabbing, Ware took money from an account of Cogmon's, went through her purse and returned to the scene a number of times to see whether law enforcement had responded, police said.

Ware's defense team had tried to argue that he was protected by Florida's stand-your-ground law because Cogmon attacked him. That argument was rejected in court.

"It was hurtful. They painted our mother as someone who she is not," Pittman told the Tampa Bay Times on Tuesday. Cogmon's family sobbed and murmured in anger as Ware spoke directly to them from the courtroom lectern on Tuesday. "I know that the creator has forgiven me," said Ware, looking at Pittman. "You have to release and move forward in your lives."

The judge told Ware she wishes healing for "everyone" in the case, but doesn't see it as excusing a senseless murder.

Outside the courthouse, Pittman and his sister, Dietrick, said they were satisfied with Sisco's decision.

The siblings helped find Cogmon's body in 2015 and have been in pain ever since, Pittman said.

Death won't bring Cogmon back, he said, and neither will prison time for Ware. But it's nice to see justice served.

Carrying a photo of Cogmon, smiling in a blue dress, Pittman said, "Her strength is what strengthens us to move forward and make her proud."

Contact Sam Ogozalek at sogozalek@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3430. Follow @SamOgozalek.

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