TAMPA — No one disputes that Joshua Carmona killed his mother.
The state and defense in the son’s murder trial both admit that at the age of 18 he bashed Tahirih D’Angelo’s head with a baseball bat and cut her neck with a kitchen knife inside their Riverview townhouse in 2017.
That means jurors who filed into the courtroom Tuesday will instead be faced with this question: Was it murder or manslaughter?
Their answer will determine whether Carmona, now 21, will spend the rest of his life in prison.
His trial opened Tuesday, more than two years after he sat in the back of a sheriff’s patrol vehicle and spontaneously told deputies that he had killed his mother.
Carmona is charged with first-degree murder in the March 20, 2017 death of D’Angelo. If convicted as charged, he faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole. The jury also has the option of convicting him of a lesser charge, manslaughter, which carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
In opening statements, Carmona’s defense described him as a troubled young man, who resented his mother’s absence in his early childhood.
“This case started back on May 15, 1998, when a 20-year-old Tahirih Carmona gave birth to Joshua Carmona,” Hillsborough Assistant Public Defender Dana Herce-Fulgueira told the jury.
The young mother felt she was unable to care for the son, whose biological father was unknown, the lawyer said. She left him in the care of his grandmother, Diana Carmona. His mother re-entered her son’s life when his grandmother died in 2009.
The defense described the mother as being “forced to raise a child that she never really wanted.”
In 2012, she married Stephen D’Angelo. They had a daughter, Carmona’s half-sister, Kaitlynn.
Although he shared a home with them, Carmona felt he didn’t belong, his attorney said. He spoke little with his mother. He spoke less with his stepfather. He saw them nurturing his young sister in a way his mother never did for him.
Things got worse when he was kicked out the home for smoking marijuana. He lived briefly with friends before starting college at Fordham University in New York. Away at school, he grew depressed and suicidal. Twice he attempted to take his own life.
On the day of the crime, the defense said, he thought of suicide before he “snapped.”
The story that Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner told the jury was less complicated. The details, he said, came straight from Carmona’s own mouth as he talked to Hillsborough sheriff’s detectives hours after his arrest.
Pruner explained how D’Angelo left home that morning to visit the Westfield Brandon mall. While she was gone, Carmona took a baseball bat, swung it, and broke part of a banister on stairs leading to the second floor of their townhouse. When his mother returned at about noon, Carmona directed her attention to the damage, then approached her with the bat in hand. As she turned to look at him, he swung, striking her in the head.
After the first blow, the prosecutor said, D’Angelo fell to the floor. She struggled and murmured as Carmona swung the bat five more times. When she stopped moving, Carmona took a knife from the kitchen and cut her neck.
He wrapped her body in a comforter, dragged it to a bathroom, and closed the door. He tried to clean up the blood, and later cleaned himself.
He drove his mother’s car, a new Nissan Sentra, and picked up his then-3-year-old half sister, Kaitlynn, from day care. He later took her to Providence Park in Riverview, where he met up with a friend and tossed around a baseball.
Along the way, he traded text messages with his step-grandfather, Robert D’Angelo, asking if he would take care of the girl over the weekend.
On the witness stand, D’Angelo said he found the request unusual. Carmona texted that he only asked because his mother and stepfather were leaving for the weekend, and he had never babysat the girl before.
D’Angelo agreed to look after her. Shortly thereafter, he went to the townhouse and found his daughter-in-law’s body.
At the park, Carmona told his friend to take the girl to his grandfather’s house.
When pressed, the prosecutor said, he confessed to his friend: “I killed my mother.”
Carmona was arrested later that day after deputies spotted him driving his mother’s Nissan on Interstate 275 in Tampa. Handcuffed, sitting in the back of a patrol cruiser, Carmona rested his head against the glass. He told the deputies they had been nice to him, that he would confess.
The trial is expected to last through this week.