TAMPA — One hot night almost 13 years ago, Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts stopped a man pushing a shopping cart along North Nebraska Avenue. A scuffle ensued. Roberts was shot to death.
As a city and a police force grieved, Humberto Delgado stood trial on murder charges. A jury would reject Delgado’s insanity defense. He was sent to prison — initially to death row, before his sentence was reduced to life.
It seemed his story would end there. But on Monday in a Tampa courtroom, lawyers and a judge looked deep into the past as Delgado voiced a longshot bid for a new trial.
Donning a red jail shirt, his voice barely audible at times, Delgado gestured with shackled hands as he weaved a somewhat convoluted tale of innocence and asserted he didn’t understand what he was doing when he agreed to go along with an insanity defense.
“I did not commit the crime,” he said.
His account stood at odds with much of the evidence presented at his 2011 trial, which included testimony from a firearms expert who matched the bullet that killed Roberts to a gun that Delgado had with him when he was arrested.
The two men encountered each other one night in August 2009, when Delgado pushed a shopping cart along North Nebraska Avenue. Roberts stopped to talk to Delgado and began to look through the cart and a backpack inside it, which held four guns. Delgado tried to run away. Roberts shocked him with a Taser. The two men began to fight. In the scuffle, Delgado pulled a gun and shot Roberts, according to court records and testimony.
Immediately afterward, Delgado phoned his uncle and told him about the fight.
“Uncle, forgive me,” he said, according to court records. “I think I killed a police officer.”
Police swarmed the area and found Roberts lying dead. They later found Delgado hiding in a woodpile in the yard of a nearby home.
A substantial focus of Delgado’s trial was his long history of mental illness. He’d been a police officer himself in his native St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but his mental health troubles caused him to lose his job. He was discharged from the military for the same reason. For years, he was plagued by delusions and paranoid thoughts, including the belief that people were trying to kill him.
Delgado chose not to testify in his trial. In court Monday, he was asked what he would say if he had another chance to tell a jury what happened.
This is what he said: He was pushing a shopping cart about 10 p.m. when the officer stopped him. He had pain in his knee. He was stressed out and tired. The officer asked for his identification. He gave it to him. The officer asked what was in the cart and began to search it.
“I knew I had firearms inside my backpack,” Delgado said. “That’s when I began to explain to him, ‘Sir, I have licensed firearms that I purchased. And I have receipts.’”
The officer became upset, he said. He panicked. He tried to run. The officer fired the Taser. He fell to his knees.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Tampa
Subscribe to our free Tampa Times newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
“I lost my senses,” he said. “It felt like forever to me.”
He mentioned blacking out. He said he heard a gunshot. He saw the officer take a few steps and fall to the roadside.
He seemed to suggest that someone else shot Roberts. He claimed he tried to help Roberts after he collapsed.
“I was so confused,” he said. “I was thinking these people are going to kill me now. So I ran.”
Assistant State Attorney John Terry in cross-examination asked Delgado if he recalled that he was found with the murder weapon.
Delgado denied his gun was the murder weapon.
Terry asked if he recalled telling his uncle that he’d shot a police officer.
“That’s what he said,” Delgado said.
He asked if he recalled sheriff’s deputies saying they overheard him admit to the crime while he was being held in jail.
“They lied,” Delgado said.
Chris Watson, one of the public defenders who represented Delgado at trial, testified that the defense team had its own expert examine the firearm evidence. They concluded they could not refute it.
“This was never a whodunit defense,” Watson said.
With Delgado’s history of mental illness, the insanity defense was deemed the best option. Delgado never voiced any theory that there was someone else who did the shooting.
“There is certainly nothing in the facts that would lead anyone to believe that was remotely possible,” Watson said.
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco said she would take time to issue a ruling on Delgado’s request for a new trial. In the interim, he will return to prison.