A Broward County man convicted in September of the stabbing murder of Marquese Butler, a popular former Key West High School athlete, was sentenced to 28 years in prison on Friday.
Circuit Court Judge Luis Garcia handed down the sentence one day after denying Nicholas Ferro's motion for a new trial. Assistant State Attorney Breezye Telfair, from Miami-Dade County, told Garcia before sentencing that Ferro should go to prison "for the rest of his natural life."
One of Ferro's attorneys, Carlos Gonzalez, said he and his colleagues will appeal the sentence.
Friday's hearing contained hours of emotional testimony from friends and family of both Ferro and Butler. Each side of the aisle inside the Plantation Key Courthouse was filled with supporters of the two young men.
It was clear from the proceedings that both men had more in common than they probably thought in the short moment in time they knew each other, even though they came from vastly different backgrounds — Ferro's family is wealthy and owns the popular Hollywood eatery Nick's Bar and Grill. Butler grew up poor in Key West.
But testimony given on Friday showed that both men grew up surrounded by close families and a large group of friends. They were both charismatic, and their respective peers wanted to be around them. Now, each family is devastated —one can never see their son and brother again; the other can, but only in the visitation wing of a yet-to-be-named state prison.
"This tragedy has broken both of our families apart," Gina Ferro, Nicholas Ferro's older sister, said from the witness stand Friday.
Garcia said both men's lives are ruined because "a chance meeting on a corner in Key West turned into a street brawl."
"There are two words that describe this case," Garcia said. "Unfixable damage."
Michael Hall, Butler's brother, said after the hearing that the sentence is "fair and just," but during testimony, he addressed Ferro directly saying: "I can't speak for the rest of my family, but I forgive you."
Fleasher Hall, Butler's mother, said after the hearing that she is "at a loss for words. With God's help, some kind of closure will come."
Ferro's family declined to comment on the sentence, but Nicholas Ferro addressed the Butler family before sentencing, asking them for forgiveness.
"Not a day goes by that I don't think about Marquese," Ferro said. "I hope you can find it in your heart to forgive me."
Ferro, now 27, killed Butler, 23, in the early morning hours of Oct. 31, 2009, during a clash on the corner of Duval and Caroline Streets between the Broward group and the Key West crew. Sometime in the course of the fight, Ferro pulled out a 2 1/2-inch pocket knife and plunged it six inches into Butler's abdomen.
Ferro said he acted in self-defense while trying to save his friend Jorge Averoff from a group-beating delivered at the hands of Butler's friends. But prosecutors successfully argued that it was Ferro and his friends who were looking for a fight, and that Ferro intentionally stabbed Butler.
The six jurors took less than two hours to find Ferro guilty of second-degree murder on Sept. 27. It was his second trial; the first one ended in a hung jury.
Garcia Friday saved his harshest words for the "drunken mob mentality" of Butler's and Ferro's friends that led to the fight, and ultimately, Butler's death.
"You should hang your head in shame," he said.
He said the fight started because two people from the respective groups "bumped shoulders." Without the influence of their friends, Garcia said he doubts Ferro and Butler would have fought that day.
"If Marquese Butler and Nicholas Ferro had been alone that night, they probably would have walked past each other and we wouldn't be here today," Garcia said.