TAMPA — The Florida Supreme Court has overturned the death sentence of Humberto Delgado, who was convicted of gunning down Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts in 2009.
In an opinion issued Thursday, a unanimous court ruled that Delgado's extreme mental illness, coupled with the circumstances of the crime, made a death sentence disproportionate as compared with other murder cases. The court sent the case back to the Circuit Court, where Delgado will be resentenced to life in prison with no chance of release.
Cindy Roberts, the slain officer's wife, could not be reached for comment. Tampa police Chief Jane Castor released a statement.
"We respect the justice system and those who have to make tough decisions," Castor said. "Regardless of the conclusion, it doesn't bring Mike back and it doesn't relieve the pain that his wife, son and his TPD family feel. His life sentence will still ensure he is held accountable for his actions."
Delgado, 40, who once worked as a police officer in his native Virgin Islands, was sentenced to death in 2012. At his trial, doctors testified about Delgado's history of delusions and psychotic behavior. All diagnosed him with bipolar disorder with varying degrees of psychosis.
Their examinations revealed that in his early adulthood, Delgado was plagued by a belief that police were out to kill him and that people were following him and sitting in trees outside his home. He also told his family that he had to cut off his children's legs because they were "goat legs" and they were "evil." He was known to wander the streets at night, saying that demons, the Masons and the rapper 50 Cent were trying to kill him.
Delgado had been hospitalized multiple times before he ended up living with relatives in Oldsmar. On Aug. 19, 2009, he walked 15 miles from there, pushing a shopping cart that held four guns, on his way to a veterans hospital in Tampa.
That night, Roberts stopped Delgado near Nebraska Avenue and Arctic Street. Delgado gave Roberts his identification. When Roberts started to search his belongings, Delgado tried to run. Roberts then shocked Delgado with a Taser. Delgado hit Roberts several times before shooting him.
He ran through a park to a nearby home, where officers found him hiding behind a wood pile. Before he was arrested, Delgado called his uncle, told him what happened, and said he wanted to kill himself.
In its opinion, the Supreme Court noted that the death penalty is intended for cases in which the aggravating factors greatly outweigh any mitigating factors presented by the defense.
"We do not downplay the fact that Corporal Roberts lost his life as a result of Delgado's actions," the justices wrote. "However … we are compelled to reduce Delgado's sentence to life imprisonment because death is not a proportionate penalty when compared to other cases."
Steven Bolotin, the attorney who handled his appeal, said the circumstances of the case likely would not have resulted in a death sentence had the victim not been a police officer. He also pointed out that Delgado shot Roberts only after the officer used the Taser, a fact which Bolotin said showed a lack of premeditation.
"There is no automatic death penalty in cases where the victim was a police officer," Bolotin said. "I think this was absolutely the right result."
Delgado remains incarcerated at Union Correctional Institution, near Raiford. He will return to Hillsborough County to be resentenced.
Mentally ill inmates are rarely executed in Florida, because of the length of the appeals process and the moral, ethical and legal issues associated with executing the insane. Recently, courts have trended away from capital punishment for the mentally ill.
Last year, Hillsborough County prosecutors declined to seek the death penalty against Julie Schenecker, a mentally ill Tampa woman who was later convicted of killing her two teenage children. In explaining the decision, the Hillsborough state attorney's office cited the likelihood that the Supreme Court would strike down a death sentence due to Schenecker's mental health.
Contact Dan Sullivan at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.