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

Tarpon Springs police officer Charles Kondek was killed in the line of duty.
Published Mar. 16, 2018

LARGO — Those who knew Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek were forced to relive his last moments in a courtroom on Thursday.

Kondek was shot and killed on Dec. 21, 2014 by a stolen gun fired by Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. Now a jury must decide whether to sentence the 27-year-old to life in prison or the death penalty.

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

In court, audio and video of the shooting captured by dashboard cameras mounted in police cruisers was played.

The audio started with Kondek being dispatched to an apartment complex to check out a noise complaint. Moments later, he called for backup — his last communication — and officers flew his direction.

Family in the court room cried at the sound of Kondek's voice.

The first officers to arrive after the shots were fired found Kondek lying on the ground.

"Officer down," one called into his radio.

"Charlie, stay with me stay with me," the officer said. "Stay with me Charlie."

As the events unfolded over the radio in the court room, Kondek's family held each other's shoulders in the pews, some sobbing silently into tissues. Some had to leave the courtroom when they heard officers started cardiopulmonary resuscitation on Kondek. One man angrily pointed at Parilla on his way out.

The first officer heard in the audio was John Gibson, who then took the stand. He tried talking to Kondek, he said, but when the officer's pulse faded he started CPR.

"This is burned into my memory," Gibson said, pausing during his testimony to compose himself. "He was looking up at me like he wanted to say something, but couldn't. I could actually see tears well up in his eyes and run down his face."

Kondek died at the age of 45, leaving behind a wife and six children.

• • •

The proceedings started with the state and defense delivering their opening statements to jurors.

"Bang bang bang bang! Bang bang bang!

"1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Seven shots."

Those were the jarring first words prosecutor James Hellickson yelled at the jury as he explained Thursday why convicted Parilla should be put to death.

"Why did he shoot seven rounds?" Hellickson asked rhetorically. "Because he ran out of bullets."

He pleaded guilty last year to the charge of first-degree murder, to killing Kondek with a stolen .40-caliber Glock pistol.

TAMPA BAY TIMES SPECIAL REPORT: STOLEN GUNS

PART 1: At least 82,000 guns stolen since 2007 are still missing in Florida

PART 2: Weak security makes gun stores a 'rich environment' for thieves

Kondek, a 17-year Tarpon Springs police veteran, was responding to a noise complaint at the Glen's Eureka apartments at 199 Grand Blvd., just south of the Sponge Docks. He confronted Parilla, who fired seven times at the officer, striking him once fatally above his bullet-resistant vest.

Parilla avoided a trial when he pleaded guilty on Oct. 12. But a jury must still decide his fate.

After the 14 jurors — 12 and two alternates — heard opening statements from the prosecution and defense, the state called its first witnesses. Their testimony stitched together a detailed picture of the events before, during and after the shooting took place more than three years ago.

• • •

In his opening remarks, Hellickson told the jury that Parilla was sober, in control and "on a mission to kill" the night of the murder. The prosecutor called a witness who recalled hearing Parilla say so himself.

Ashton Colvin, now 29, lived near the defendant and drank with him the night of the shooting. Colvin told the jury that Parilla pulled out a gun from his waistband, took out the magazine, racked the slide and showed it to him.

"Then he decided to tell me where on someone's body he would shoot someone," Colvin said, "where it would injure them and where it would kill them."

Later, the state called on Anthony Michael Lietz, who lived in an apartment next door to Parilla's old apartment in the Glen's Eureka complex. Lietz testified that he was awakened at about 2 a.m. by Parilla banging the butt-end of a gun against his neighbor's door — the one where Parilla used to live. Then Parilla started banging on Lietz's door.

Lietz said his father answered the door. Parilla sounded "down and out," according to Lietz, so his father gave him $20.

Lietz said Parilla seemed intoxicated and enraged. He was looking for his former prison friend and roommate, Jareem Roach.

"He said he was looking for (Roach), and he had a bullet for him," Lietz recalled Parilla told him.

The court also heard two different perspectives of the confrontation that prompted the noise complaint that resulted in Kondek being dispatched to the apartments. Robert Preston Stansell said he knocked on the window of a Hyundai parked at the apartments that was blaring loud music while Parilla was inside the complex.

Stansell said a woman inside the car flashed him her middle finger. He then called police complaining of the loud Hyundai.

After Stansell stepped down, the court heard from Evelyn Desiree Santiago, the woman who was in the car. She said both she and Parilla had significant others at the time, but were engaged in a "sexual relationship" and would see each other a couple times per week. That night, she said, she was intoxicated and was driving around with Parilla when he stopped at the apartments.

He went inside and she had the music up, telling off Stansell when he knocked on the window. Then, she said, a police car pulled up behind her car. The officer got out as Parilla returned to the car.

"What do you have in your pocket?" she recalled Kondek asking Parilla. "(Parilla) started backing up, and then he pulls out his gun from the back pocket and then he starts shooting."

• • •

When deciding whether to sentence a defendant to death, juries in capital cases are asked to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors. Which factors will outweigh the others?

The prosecution team will argue that under state law these aggravating factors are enough to merit a death sentence:

• Parilla was on felony probation after serving prison time for charges such as selling cocaine and marijuana, trafficking in stolen property and leaving the scene of a crash involving an injury. He was freed from prison in March 2014, nine months before he killed the officer. He previously had been convicted of 11 felonies, Hellickson said.

• Parilla shot Kondek because he was trying to avoid arrest. After he was captured, Parilla told detectives he didn't want to go back to prison.

• Kondek died as a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his official duties when he was killed.

Amanda Sellers, one of Parilla's attorneys, conceded to the jury in her opening statement that all the aggravating factors were true. But she implored jurors not to sentence Parilla — to whom she referred exclusively by his first name, Marco — to death anyway.

"He stands before you accepting full responsibility for what he did," she said. "No one is going to try to excuse what he did. Or justify it. Or to defend it."

She listed a series of mitigating factors the defense plans to argue:

• Parilla had a hard life starting with complications at birth and then grew up to an abusive mother and absent father.

• He was a teenage father and suffered trauma that affected his development as an adult.

• And, the defense said, Parilla was under the influence of drugs and alcohol the night he shot and killed the officer.

Parilla's defense attorneys will also make a medical argument to spare him from the death penalty: head trauma impaired his judgment at the time of the shooting.

Parilla underwent two brain imaging scans that will be discussed by experts assembled by his defense team. Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand told the Tampa Bay Times his client has "brain abnormalities" that could have affected his decision-making.

The Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office has lined up its own experts to counter the defense's case.

Parilla was remorseful, Sellers said, and read aloud excerpts of a poem he wrote in prison to Kondek's family.

"I'm sorry for taking the love of a husband, of a father, of a man who everyone cared for," she read from the poem. "Sorry is all I have."

Parilla, Sellers said, "is not the worst of the worst."

Court will resume Friday.

Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or jsolomon@tampabay.com. Follow @ByJoshSolomon.

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 SENTENCING: To avoid death penalty, Florida cop killer will claim brain damage

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