LARGO — A teenager was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for randomly stabbing and killing a stranger passing by on a bicycle
Mychal King hung his head and shook it when the judge asked if he wanted to say anything in the crowded courtroom. His mother made an attempt to stand up for her son, saying he was "not a bad kid," but had gone through a rough time of near-homelessness. "We all do stupid things," she added.
But the family and friends of victim Jason Paul, who packed the courtroom, stood up too. They said it was utterly unfair that they no longer get to see him and enjoy his company.
"Mychal, I do not understand how you could brutally stab someone you didn't know just because you had a bad day," Paul's mother Renee Langfritz said during the hearing.
King was 15 in January 2013 when he brutally slashed Paul, 22, who was bicycling home from work near Crest Lake Park in Clearwater. King later told detectives he was extremely angry on that night and decided to kill the next person he saw.
"Do you know, Mychal, that our son lay dead in the street for over eight hours, alone? You took away all the hopes and dreams we had as parents," Langfritz said.
"This was not a mistake or an accident or an unintended consequence," Assistant State Attorney Joshua Riba said. "This crime, this murder, was a cold-blooded offense."
In a surprise decision in January, King pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and unrelated charges, including sale and possession of cocaine and aggravated battery. He did not have a plea bargain, so he was putting himself at the court's mercy. His attorney Daniel Hernandez said this showed he was taking responsibility for his crime.
Langfritz said she was glad she did not have to sit though a trial, but thought King should have had to endure one, so he could reflect on his crime. "Pleading guilty was a cowardly way out," she said.
For Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone, the case presented a complicated legal question. The U.S. Supreme Court has said people under 18 who commit murder cannot automatically be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. But anyone else convicted of first-degree murder in Florida would either be given a life sentence without parole, or the death penalty.
Bulone said that under recent case law, he needed to sentence King to life in prison with a chance at parole after 25 years for the murder, although future decisions from appellate courts could change that.
Contact Curtis Krueger at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8232. Follow @ckruegertimes.