TAMPA — It took a jury a little more than an hour Thursday to find Joshua Carmona guilty of first-degree murder for beating his mother to death with a baseball bat on her birthday in 2017 at their Riverview home.
The panel of nine men and three women shunned defense arguments that the killing was something less than murder, ensuring that the 21-year-old will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Christopher Sabella imposed the mandatory life sentence immediately after the verdict.
“This was a sad case,” Sabella told the defendant. “But I can add that it was a sad and troubling case, because I just don’t understand why. You were a successful high school student, an intelligent human being. And while I heard some explanations, they, frankly, didn’t make much sense.”
Carmona nodded as the judge addressed him, but offered no words. He did not react to the jury’s decision.
“He knew what he was doing was wrong,” said Luis Carmona, the brother of the victim, Tahirih D’Angelo. “It was purely premeditated. There’s just no excuse for it that I could see at all.”
Carmona’s lawyers did not deny that he committed the killing. But they argued there was no premeditation, telling the jury that he simply “snapped," and that he should be found guilty of manslaughter.
“This was an 18-year-old teenager spiraling out of control,” Assistant Public Defender Dana Herce-Fulgueira said in closing arguments.
But it was hard to get around Carmona’s own words.
The centerpiece of the state’s case was a video in which two Hillsborough sheriff’s detectives questioned Carmona hours after his arrest. He gave them a detailed confession.
“Today, I woke up and I decided," he said. “I killed my mom today.”
Assistant State Attorney Jay Pruner emphasized a number of statements Carmona made in the video.
“He talks about decisions and he talks about plans,” Pruner said. “Decisions and plans are conscious efforts, conscious mental efforts to sort through options ... you can see the deliberate steps he took to kill his mother.”
D’Angelo was 20 years old in 1998 when she gave birth to her son. His father was unknown. During the trial, witnesses spoke of how she struggled to care for the boy in his first year of life. When he was still a baby, she left him in the care of his grandmother, Diana Carmona.
When his grandmother died in 2009, his mother re-entered his life. She later married Stephen D’Angelo. They had a daughter together, Joshua’s half-sister Kaitlynn.
In his teen years, Carmona withdrew from the family. His cousin, Sadia Navarez, testified for the defense, saying she expressed concern about how Carmona stayed in his bedroom much of the time, only venturing out to get food or drinks. Shortly before he left for college, his mother and stepfather kicked him out of their home because they learned he was smoking marijuana. Navarez said they didn’t want him using drugs around his sister.
In 2016, he spent one semester at at Fordham University in New York City. But while away at school, he got in trouble in Pennsylvania after what was described as a suicide attempt. He tried to kill himself once again in February 2017, attorneys said, during what was described as a suicidal road trip.
In the interrogation video, he spoke of seeing his mother and stepfather nurture his sister in a way that his mother had never done for him. He spoke of planning to kill both his mother and stepfather.
“I was blaming my mom for not being there,” he said. “And I, like, I think I just held it in. I hated her for that.”
He woke up the morning of March 20, 2017, with the plan to kill. Stephen D’Angelo was at work when Tahirih D’Angelo left their Riverview townhouse. When she returned at about noon, Carmona said he directed her attention to part of a banister that he’d smashed with a baseball bat. As she looked at the damage, he attacked, bashing her in the head.
He hit her several more times until she stopped moving. He heard what he said were muffled screams. He told her to “let go.” He told her his sister would be okay. After she was dead, Carmona took a knife from the kitchen and cut his mother’s neck.
He later left in her car, picked up his then-3-year-old sister at day care, then met up with a friend in a park. While he was there, he became aware that his step-grandfather had entered the home. He told his friend to take the girl, then drove off. He was arrested hours later on Interstate 275 in Tampa.
“I screwed something up,” he told the detectives. “I made the wrong choice.”