More than 18 months after her husband died, Stephanie Magli took the stand to address the man who killed her best friend and partner, Deputy Michael Magli.
She recalled the police cars, driving down the street in her neighborhood to tell her that her husband had been hit and killed in the line of duty by a drunk driver fleeing deputies. Through tears, she recounted having to tell her 5-year-old daughter that he was never coming home and watching her infant daughter take her first steps without her father there.
“You robbed a great man of a good life,” Stephanie Magli told 35-year-old Robert Allen Holzaepfel. “But you also robbed my kids of the life that they deserve, and an opportunity for me to grow old with my best friend.”
Holzaepfel was sentenced to 35 years in prison Friday after he pleaded guilty to third-degree murder, DUI manslaughter and a felony charge of driving while his license was suspended or revoked. He could have been sentenced to life in prison if convicted during a trial, but Magli’s family asked prosecutors to accept the plea deal that public defenders had offered.
Frank Magli, the deputy’s father, reflected on the impact of Holzaepfel’s choices.
“You create loss that touches every facet of our life,” he said, addressing the defendant, who sat quietly next to public defenders in an orange jumpsuit.
Magli’s mother said her faith compels her to forgive Holzaepfel, even if it takes “a lifetime of trying.”
She said she wasn’t happy when she first heard that her son planned to go into law enforcement because she worried he could die in the line of duty. In February of last year, her fears came true.
“It’s been a complete nightmare,” Angela Magli-Ramirez said as she wept on the stand.
“I didn’t know unconditional love until he was born,” she later added.
Law enforcement officers packed the courtroom Friday in a show of support. Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri sat between Magli’s parents and widow in the front row. Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, who prosecuted the high-profile killings of three other law enforcement officers, also was there to represent the state, alongside Assistant State Attorney Emily VanOosting.
Stephanie Magli asked Holzaepfel to address the family himself. But instead, he stayed silent as his public defender, Margaret Russell, spoke on his behalf.
“Your honor,” Russell addressed Judge Joseph Bulone, “Robert Holzaepfel has asked me to say that there’s no apology, no act of atonement, no words of prayer that can bring back this loved husband, father, friend and colleague.”
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Holzaepfel was passed out in a pickup truck at a red light on Forelock Road on Feb. 17, 2021, when he was approached by first responders from East Lake Fire Rescue. They broke the truck’s window to try to get into the vehicle and help Holzaepfel, who then sped off and drove south down East Lake Road, according to Gualtieri.
Deputies responded to the scene to stop Holzaepfel. Magli had gotten out of his car to deploy stop sticks when Holzaepfel’s truck slammed into Magli and spun out of control into the median, trapping the deputy under the vehicle. Holzaepfel’s blood alcohol level was almost three times the legal limit at the time of the crash, deputies said.
According to the Officer Down Memorial Page, Magli’s death was the first line-of-duty death in the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office’s 110-year history.
“For us, this is the first, thankfully, and hopefully the last ever in the history of Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office,” Gualtieri told reporters after the sentencing. “And it is something undoubtedly that we think about every single day and will think about every single day, as we should.”
Gualtieri recalled Magli as a “good guy” committed to doing his job every day. Just recently, the sheriff said, somebody had approached him about a family member who was driving on East Lake Road the day Hozaepfel was racing down the street.
“If Michael hadn’t been there doing what he did, this drunk — who didn’t care about anybody or anything, who was running from the cops — would’ve plowed through that median and taken out a whole bunch of cars and a whole bunch of people,” Gualtieri said.
The 35 years Hozaepfel will serve in prison is equivalent to a life sentence, Gualtieri said.
“This is justice,” he said. “The system worked the way it was supposed to work.”