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Hernando judge spares man from prison on second probation violation

BROOKSVILLE — Trembling and gulping for air as tears fell down his cheeks, Richard T. Reynolds Jr. waited to find out if a judge would give him a third chance.

Eight years ago, at age 16, Reynolds was sentenced to four years in prison for running a red light in Spring Hill and killing a 75-year-old man. He violated his probation in 2010 but avoided prison time when the widow of the man spoke on Reynolds' behalf.

Now Reynolds was back in court to be sentenced for violating his probation a second time. The 24-year-old failed to register as a convicted felon when he moved to the Panhandle last year.

The widow of the man he killed in 2004 did not attend Thursday's hearing, but a judge once again saw fit to be lenient.

Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. ordered Reynolds to serve two years of house arrest followed by six more years of probation.

The law required Merritt to sentence Reynolds to at least 11 years in prison, but the judge ruled that the facts of the case warranted the downward departure.

Merritt decided that Reynolds' failure to register was an isolated violation. The judge said it was more important for Reynolds to continue to pay down the $11,000 in restitution he owes to the family of David Watts.

But he warned Reynolds: "You need to understand you're being given another shot. If you screw it up, there won't be any other order" but prison.

In 2004, Reynolds took his parents' PT Cruiser, ran a red light at Mariner and Landover boulevards and collided with Watts' vehicle. Watts died at the scene.

Reynolds, who only had a learner's permit, pleaded guilty to third-degree murder and driving without a license. He was sentenced as a youthful offender.

In 2010, Reynolds pleaded guilty to filing a false report in Hillsborough County after a fender-bender. With the consent of Watts' widow, Nancy, a judge extended his probation.

On Thursday, Assistant State Attorney Donald "Sonny" McCathran told Merritt that prison was appropriate this time. McCathran noted Reynolds has paid only a fraction of the more than $14,000 he was ordered to pay the Watts family, and he has completed just three of 20 speeches he was ordered to give to middle and high school students.

Reynolds, who has been in jail since his arrest in November, told Merritt he never would have risked going back to prison if he'd understood the registration requirement.

A licensed cosmetologist, he said he could get a job at a salon to pay his debt.