BROOKSVILLE — Carmen Acevedo sat on the witness stand Monday and looked straight at Sherrie Dicus, the woman who helped kill Acevedo's son.
Acevedo knew Dicus's attorney was about to ask the judge to have mercy on the 40-year-old woman who took part in a deadly carjacking two summers ago.
"What leniency did you have for my son? You left him there by the side of the road," Acevedo said, as Dicus sat trembling and staring at her lap. "I just hope that you don't see daylight anymore."
"Think really hard," she added, "about what you also did to your daughter."
Moments later, Hernando Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Sr. sentenced Dicus to life in prison, the maximum allowed as part of a plea deal.
During another hearing immediately afterward, Merritt sentenced Dicus' 17-year-old daughter, Sabrina, to 10 years behind bars for her role in the killing.
During both hearings, the Dicuses' attorney, family members and a forensic psychologist told Merritt how a mother passed on a dysfunctional life to her daughter.
In June 2010, the Dicuses were living in a tent in the woods south of Brooksville with Sabrina's boyfriend, Steven Wesolek. He was 19; she was 14. The three were homeless and hadn't eaten for days, Wesolek told an investigator. They had planned to steal a car, flee the state and start a new life.
So, on June 20, Wesolek called his former girlfriend Skyler Collins and asked if she could give him and his friends a ride. She agreed, but her friend Enrique "Ricky" Acevedo, 18, wouldn't let her go alone.
He drove, and Collins rode in the passenger seat. Wesolek and the Dicuses squeezed into the back. As they approached a quiet intersection south of Brooksville, authorities say, Wesolek stabbed Acevedo while Sherrie Dicus choked Collins until she passed out. Collins regained consciousness when Acevedo slammed on the brakes, and the two stumbled out of the car.
Acevedo collapsed, stopped breathing and died on the pavement. A medical examiner determined he'd been stabbed in the neck, head, back and shoulder.
Wesolek confessed to the killing, then later changed his story, saying the Dicuses had used him and he'd lied to protect Sabrina, the real killer. A jury found him guilty of first-degree murder in May, and Merritt sentenced him to life in prison, sparing him the death penalty.
The Dicuses were also charged with first-degree murder, attempted felony murder, carjacking and armed robbery.
Sherrie Dicus's parents divorced when she was 9, and her mother kicked her out about six years later, said Tampa psychologist Larry Krop, testifying for the defense.
Sherrie Dicus went to live with her father, who sexually abused her. She used sharp objects in self-mutilation and was an alcoholic by high school, Krop said. Dicus started using methamphetamine with her husband around 2000 and remained addicted to the drug as they raised Sabrina and her older sister.
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She now suffers from cognitive and mood disorders, Krop said.
"I can't say one thing contributed to her actions, but certainly I think these were in play and should be considered when trying to understand who Mrs. Dicus is," he said.
Sherrie Dicus had considered going to trial. Instead, she agreed to an open plea to second-degree murder, among other charges, so her daughter wouldn't have to testify, Krop said. Sabrina had already pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in exchange for her cooperation.
Defense attorney Michelle Ortiz asked Merritt to "temper punishment with compassion" by sentencing Sherrie Dicus to the minimum 30 years.
Merritt was not swayed.
"Many people have a similar type of background to what Mrs. Dicus has and have become productive citizens," the judge said. "Very few turn to murder or attempted murder."
Sabrina Dicus and her sister spent their childhood shuttling between her parents in Florida and grandparents in upstate New York.
While here, the girls spent nights in abandoned cars, under a bridge and behind a Dumpster, Sabrina testified. Her attorney said she had no idea Wesolek was going to kill Acevedo.
"I just want to tell the family I'm sorry, and I never wanted anything to happen," she said through tears. "I tried to do everything I could to help this case. I just want to move on and have a better life."
On the way to the witness stand for a second time, Carmen Acevedo asked if she could give Sabrina a hug. Prosecutor Pete Magrino whispered in her ear for a moment, and she continued to the stand.
"A hug means so much to a child, and obviously you didn't get enough," Acevedo said. "Maybe in your future, when you do get out, you can be part of society. For now, you need to do your time."