With a large group of Florida International University law students watching from the gallery, a judge on Friday reduced the prison sentence for a man who fatally stabbed an unarmed school football player during a campus brawl.
Quentin Wyche, himself a former FIU student and walk-on football player, will now serve 11 years in prison instead of 20 and a half years. He still will have to serve five years of probation after he is released, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Miguel de la O ruled.
Wyche testified Friday that he had completed a behavior modification program while behind bars, and prayed every day for the family of the victim, Kendall Berry. He also has a job lined up to work as an assistant in an accounting office, the court heard.
Circuit Judge Miguel de la O, who meted out the original sentence, was swayed.
“He’s a man who has a future,” defense attorney Barry Butin said of Wyche. “The judge said it best, ‘He’s not a criminal, he just committed a criminal act.’”
The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office did not object to the request for the reduced sentence, or the new prison term. With credit for time already served, Wyche could be released from state prison by around 2020.
The new sentence did not sit well with Berry’s mother, Mellisscia Spillman, of Lakeland, who could not attend the hearing because she was ill. She told the Miami Herald that prosecutors should have fought harder to keep the sentence intact.
Back at the 2013 sentencing, Spillman advocated forgiveness and was satisfied with the 20-year sentence.
“It was lenient enough. I didn’t see any reason for it to be further reduced,” Spillman said. “It’s very hurtful. It’s really devastating.”
A spokesman for the state attorney’s office could not be reached for comment.
The hearing was watched by more than 100 students from FIU’s law school. The judge, prosecutor and defense lawyer all spoke to students after the hearing.
“It was electric and engaging,” said FIU law professor H. Scott Fingerhut, who helped organize the outing. “There wasn’t a single student who wasn’t inspired and excited. It was the best day of school — in court.”
Jurors in September 2013 convicted Wyche of second-degree murder in the killing of Berry, a popular running back, at the university’s recreation center.
Berry’s death shocked the FIU campus, and prompted a scathing internal report blasting the school’s delay in notifying students about the killing. Berry, 22, led the team in touchdowns the season before his death, while Wyche was briefly a walk-on football player for the Panthers.
In March 2010, Wyche had smashed or threw a cookie in the face of Berry’s girlfriend. Later that day, several of his teammates — with Berry watching about 50 yards away — confronted Wyche and his friends outside the gym.
Scrums broke out in front of the rec center. At trial, jurors heard that Wyche ran away, but then reengaged, retrieving a pair of scissors from his backpack before stabbing Berry in the chest.
In July 2015, an appeals court upheld the conviction.