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'Death' for cop-killer is a mistake. He gets life in prison.

Aleena Kondek, left, hugs her mother Teresa Kondek in a Pinellas courtroom as they react to the news that the man who killed Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek was sentenced to life in prison. The jury had mistakenly filled out the verdict form, leading the courtroom to believe that Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., 27, had actually been given the death penalty. The confusion was quickly cleared up, but the news that Parilla would not be sent to Florida's Death Row left the officer's family and friends devastated. Aleena is the youngest child of Charles and Teresa Kondek. The couple's other children are in foreground. [CHERIE DIEZ | Times]
Published Mar. 23, 2018

LARGO — The man who shot and killed Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek in 2014 will spend the rest of his life in prison.

That was the sentence 12 jurors chose for Marco Antonio Parilla, Jr. on Friday after two weeks of testimony and four hours of deliberations — but it was not the sentence that Kondek's family and the courtroom heard.

Instead, the verdict that Parilla should be put to death was read aloud.

That evoked cheers as the fallen officer's family and friends hugged each other.

But moments later, prosecutors and defense attorneys huddled in front of Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone's bench.

The jury had filled out the verdict form incorrectly, leading to the confusion.

Bulone then sent them back into the jury room to fill out a new verdict form. When they returned, the vote was what they had intended all along: 10 chose the death penalty; two voted for a life sentence.

The judge asked each juror if "the intent of the original first verdict form was to indicate 10 for death and two for life."

Under Florida law, juries in capital cases must unanimously recommend a death sentence. Every juror confirmed their vote, thus sparing Parilla from Florida's death row.

In the courtroom, cheers quickly turned into tears.

"I know that the family was hoping for a different result," Bulone said. "But he's going to die in prison and he's only 27 now. He's going to have a whole lot of days potentially for him to think about what he's done."

Teresa Kondek, the officer's wife, said the verdict mishap "devastated" her family.

The only justice she can imagine for her husband, she said, is the death penalty.

• • •

Kondek, 45, a father of six, was killed while answering a noise complaint on Dec. 21, 2014. Parilla fired seven times at the officer.

One bullet struck Kondek above his bullet-resistant vest. Parilla then drove away, but was quickly captured.

Finally, more than three years after the officer died, after falsely learning that his killer would be put to death, Kondek's family addressed Parilla.

Teresa Kondek approached the lectern first, reading from a letter she wrote to the man who killed her husband.

"I wanted the death penalty for you," she said. "But either way, your time in hell is coming. Until then, you are just a burden for taxpayers."

She recalled seeing the police lights flashing in front of her home the morning of Dec. 21, 2014. She called her husband, who worked the midnight shift, but he didn't answer. Then she learned the news.

"You're the reason we're all here today," the wife said. "You have no idea what you took from me. .?.?. You killed a man who wrote letters to me, made me laugh, and planned date nights."

She listed the memories her husband has missed with their five children: high school graduations, awards ceremonies for their kids, his oldest daughter's wedding.

"He didn't walk Holly down the aisle," Teresa said. "I sat next to an empty chair with a uniform on it."

• • •

In capital cases, juries must weigh aggravating factors presented by the state and mitigating factors presented by the defense before deciding on life or death.

Prosecutors presented three aggravating factors: Kondek was an officer performing his official duties, Parilla was on felony probation, and he was trying to avoid arrest.

Expert witnesses for the defense testified about the neglect and physical abuse Parilla suffered as a child, at one point living in a homeless shelter.

The defense also presented medical testimony that Parilla suffered a brain injury at the age of 8 and was at high risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, also known as CTE. That degenerative brain diseased has been diagnosed in football players and causes aggression, depression, impulsivity and memory loss.

TAMPA BAY TIMES: COP-KILLER SENTENCING

FAST FACTS: Five things to know about the death of Officer Charles Kondek

THE PROSECUTION: In court, Officer Charles Kondek's family hears his last moments

THE DEFENSE: Cop-killer's mother tells jury: 'My son is not an animal'

THE DEFENDANT: Cop killer takes the stand and apologizes to officer's family.

During closing arguments, Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett told the jury that death was the only appropriate sentence.

"It's a tough job and we asked you, if you could do it, you said you would," Bartlett said. "He made his choice about officer Kondek. He was the judge and juror. You're going to have the opportunity in a few short minutes to go back and make your decision."

Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand said the death penalty should only be reserved for "the worst of the worst."

Then he told the jury: "I respectfully suggest to you, despite the horror, despite the anger, despite the sadness, this is not one of those murders."

• • •

The Dec. 21, 2014, shooting incident began when Parilla drove to his old apartment at the Glen's Eureka apartments at 199 Grand Blvd. in Tarpon Springs.

Parilla, a felon who had been released from prison nine months earlier, was there to find a former roommate, Jareem Roach. Someone snitched on Parilla about his drug use, and a warrant was issued for his arrest for violating his probation. He suspected it was Roach.

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Music blared from the car stereo. Just after 2 a.m., dispatchers received a noise complaint at the apartments. Kondek volunteered to go alone. His fellow officers were tied up with a bar fight.

Parilla was walking back to his car when he saw Kondek. Parilla raised a .40-caliber Glock that was stolen from an unlocked car in Jacksonville and fatally wounded the officer.

Parilla drove off, running over Kondek as he lay in the street. He was soon captured after crashing into a power pole near the Sponge Docks.

Kondek was rushed to Florida Hospital North Pinellas. He was pronounced dead at 3:02 a.m.

Teresa Kondek said her husband, who also served with the New York City Police Department, would have retired from law enforcement this month. He would have been 48.

Contact Laura C. Morel at lmorel@tampabay.com. Follow @lauracmorel.

• • •

TAMPA BAY TIMES COVERAGE: THE DEATH OF OFFICER CHARLES KONDEK

IN THE LINE OF DUTY: Suspect charged in Tarpon Springs police officer's slaying

THE FUNERAL: Slain Tarpon Springs Officer Charles Kondek remembered for humor, dedication, love

THE CONVICTION: Killer of Tarpon Springs police officer pleads guilty

THE DEFENSE: To avoid death penalty, Florida cop killer will claim brain damage.

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