TAMPA — On a June morning more than a quarter-century ago, a troubled teenage boy shot and killed a man during a botched robbery inside a Tampa home. Not long after, Kyle Moran was condemned to spend the rest of his life in prison for the crime, a fleeting decision that he would later acknowledge was the worst mistake he ever made.
On Thursday, the man he became appeared once again before a judge, who determined that he had served enough time.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez converted the remainder of his 40-year sentence to 10 years of probation. If he successfully completes that, Moran will be able to put the consequences of his crime behind him.
Little was said during the perfunctory hearing Thursday morning. But the judge’s order bookended a long series of court proceedings that came before.
Moran was convicted as a teenager in the 1994 shooting death of Manuel Huerta. He and two teenage friends had run away from their Massachusetts home and wound up in Tampa, where they eventually targeted the retired Tampa bus driver for a robbery. When Huerta tried to defend himself with a knife, Moran shot him.
It was a decision that ultimately cost him 25 years of his young adulthood. His winding and rocky path to life as a free person began with a series of Supreme Court rulings a decade ago, which changed the way the legal system treats juveniles who commit serious crimes. In 2018, he was afforded a new sentencing hearing at which the grown man described a depressed teenager who endured a childhood rife with abuse. He recalled the terror of entering adult prison as a kid, predatory advances from older prisoners and a hopeless outlook in the face of a life sentence.
The judge at that time resentenced Moran to 25 years. He was released about a year later.
Earlier this year, it appeared Moran would have to return to jail, the state having made a successful appeal of the sentence that allowed his release. A higher court’s order forced the judge to amend Moran’s sentence to 40 years in prison, the mandatory minimum. But it came with the guarantee of a sentence review at the 25-year mark.
But in the two years the appeal was pending, Moran built a life. He lived for a year at Abe Brown Ministries, a Tampa organization that helps former prisoners transition to society. He participated in the Ready4Work program and got a job with a company that installs fire sprinklers in new buildings.
There then came a discussion of exactly how much time Moran had already served. The state ultimately agreed that Moran had served the full 25 years, making him eligible for review. Prosecutors also agreed to allow him to remain free until a judge could conduct the sentence review hearing.
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That was last month. The judge heard from his work supervisor and others who had seen his transition. They described a man who eager to learn, and who was a model of rehabilitation.
Huerta’s family did not attend, but a prosecutor conveyed his son’s wish for Moran to remain incarcerated. The state, however, did not ask for Moran to return to prison.
The judge, once again, also heard from Moran himself. He expressed remorse for the pain he’d caused as a teen. The man he became, he said, is a different person.
“I was 16 then,” he said in court. “I’m 43 now. Even if I had wanted to stay the same I don’t think I could stay the same. I’m a very different person. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes. But I like the person I’ve become.”