LARGO — Khadafy Mullens was sentenced to death on Friday for killing two people in a brutal 2008 robbery that was captured in vivid detail on a convenience store surveillance camera.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip Federico said factors that persuaded him to sentence the 29-year-old to death included Mullens' previous felony conviction; the fact he killed while committing another crime, robbery; and that he was shooting people to prevent them from being witnesses against him.
Mullens, who is bipolar, smiled as he walked into the courtroom. During the proceedings, he at one point dropped his head as if nodding. Later, he seemed alert but showed no reaction as Federico sentenced him to death.
In August 2008, Mullens shot and killed store owner Mohammad Uddin, 44, and customer Ronald Hayworth, 50, at Central Food Mart, 2157 Central Ave., about half a dozen blocks west of Tropicana Field. He also shot another man coming into the store, Albert Barton, 69, who survived.
Mullens was with another man. Authorities say it was his co-defendant, Spencer Peeples, 32, whose case is pending.
During the robbery, Mullens removed a video recording system that he presumably thought was the only one in the store. He was wrong. A new surveillance system had just been set up and it provided the clear footage that formed compelling evidence in the case.
The video shows Mullens and the other man waving a handgun and forcing Uddin to the floor. They demand his car keys and take lottery tickets. Hayworth, the customer, also is in the store. Then, the second robber leaves.
When Mullens sees Uddin dialing a telephone, he shoots and kills him. Next he grabs Hayworth, swings him to the floor and shoots him.
Barton is outside the store and appears to be entering. Mullens yanks Barton inside and shoots at him. Barton falls, but fights back and survives.
Mullens pleaded guilty to the murders in April. His plea amounted to a life-or-death gambit, but one that legal experts said was a sound one, given the overwhelming evidence against him.
If Mullens had gone to trial and been convicted — highly likely considering the video — a jury would have listened to more evidence during a second phase in the trial, and recommended either death or life in prison. The jury's recommendation would not have been binding, but the judge would have been required to give it great weight.
But in this case, Federico listened to all the evidence himself that related to how Mullens should be sentenced. The decision was the judge's alone and marked the first time he has imposed the death penalty in a long career.
In death penalty cases, a judge is required to weigh what are known as aggravating and mitigating factors. Aggravating factors amount to evidence in favor of the death penalty, and mitigating factors amount to evidence against the death penalty.
Keep up with Tampa Bay’s top headlines
Subscribe to our free DayStarter newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
In this case, Federico found prosecutors had proven three aggravating factors, and that Mullens' public defenders had established several mitigating factors. But he said he gave "great weight" to each aggravating factor, and that they "far outweigh the mitigating circumstances."
The mitigating factors included: that Mullens was suffering from "extreme" mental illnesses; had little capacity to "conform his conduct to the requirements of the law"; was sexually abused as a child; could be treated for his mental illness; is immature and easily manipulated; was acting under the domination of the second suspect; had poor IQ and academic scores; that he took responsibility for his crime; and that he had loving family members.
Federico noted that he gave no weight to one claim made by the defense — that Mullens' father named his son Khadafy after Moammar Gadhafi because he respected the way the Libyan leader had opposed the Reagan Administration.