Enrique Gonzalez, then 16, shot a man dead while robbing him for his expensive white leather cap in 1987.
Herbert Murray was 17 and part of a group that mugged then killed a horse trainer near the jockey quarters at Calder Race Track in 1978.
Both men, convicted of murder and sent to prison for life as juveniles, appeared in court Wednesday to learn they will soon walk free. The reason: Miami-Dade prosecutors have agreed to shorten their sentences in light of recent high-court rulings limiting sentences on young killers.
Gonzalez, now 45 and completely bald, smiled and calmly thanked the judge who approved the deal. Prison authorities should release him to probation within the next few weeks.
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“He’s completely changed his life and he’s remorseful for what happened,” said his lawyer, Aubrey Webb. “Today, he gets a chance to undo his sins and to go back into society and start readjusting.”
Today, he gets a chance to undo his sins and to go back into society and start re-adjusting.
Aubrey Webb, lawyer for teen-age killer Enrique Gonzalez
Downstairs, Murray used a tissue to wipe tears from his cheek as he assured another judge that he planned to get a job installing lawn sprinklers. Now 56, he’ll officially accept the new sentence on Thursday — the hearing was delayed by a day so that his 90-year-old grandmother can attend court.
“There’s a lot of emotions,” said his lawyer, Assistant Public Defender Marjorie Alexis. “He’s very overwhelmed.”
The men are the latest convicts to benefit from two U.S. Supreme Court rulings — and a series of subsequent rulings from Florida’s high court — that changed how the state treats juveniles convicted of major crimes.
The rulings over the past several years banned mandatory life sentences without the possibility of parole for juveniles convicted of murder.
Judges now can still sentence a juvenile to life — with the possibility of release after 15, or 25 years, depending on their role in the crime. But those life sentences can be only for the most heinous of murders, and judges must first hear evidence of a killer’s childhood and upbringing.
Those legal decisions dramatically expanded the number of old cases in which defendants now have a shot at freedom. It also meant that prosecutors had to scramble to dust off old files, find witnesses who may have disappeared or died and decide one by one which defendants to try and keep behind bars.
In all, Miami-Dade prosecutors have identified more than 200 defendants eligible for new sentences. So far, about 14 have gotten new sentences, most of them plea deals like those accepted by Gonzalez and Murray.
“Because of the state of the law, we are not seeking resentencing on all of these cases,” Miami prosecutor Justin Funck told the judge in Gonzalez’s case on Wednesday. “Life is reserved for the worst of the worst.”
Only a handful have gone to full-blown resentencing hearings — the most high-profile killer was Michael Hernandez, who was again given life in prison for viciously stabbing his classmate to death at Southwood Middle School.
Last month, a Miami-Dade judge ordered a new sentencing for Raymond Bradley, who at 17 shot and killed Coral Gables Police Officer Robert DeKorte in January 1972. Prosecutors, however, are appealing the ruling.
The State Attorney’s Office, however, did not oppose a reduction of the life sentence for Alan Grant, who at age 16 murdered Leroy J. Pitts, an Eastern Airlines employee who police said lived a double life as a narcotics dealer in Liberty City in 1982.
After more than three decades in prison, Grant last week accepted a 50-year-old sentence. With time for good behavior under prison rules from the early 1980s, Grant will be released in the coming days.
The 50-year plea deals — essentially credit for time served — were the same ones floated to Gonzalez and Murray, each of whom was eligible for parole but never got it.
Gonzalez was 16 in November 1987, when he shot and killed David Tucker on West Okeechobee Road near the Star Motel.
Tucker, who lived at the motel, was walking down the street when Gonzalez and a red Trans-Am full of young men pulled up. They were after Tucker’s white leather “MCM” brand cap, which at the time was popular with street gangs who liked to say the letters meant “making cash money” or “master criminal mind.”
Another teen handed Gonzalez the gun. Tucker laughed. Gonzalez fired.
“Ricky Gonzalez never denied he did the act,” his lawyer, Webb, said on Wednesday. “He went to trial and took the stand and did commit the robbery but the gun went off accidentally.”
Gonzalez has not gotten in trouble in prison for almost a decade, Webb said.
He’ll have to serve five years of probation.
“Probation is very dangerous for you,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Michael Hanzman told him. “They are very serious consequences if you violate.”
As for Murray, he was part of a group of young people who attacked horse trainer Francis Karpinski on Aug. 22, 1978, in an open field near the Calder Race Track. The group beat up Karpinski and robbed him of a knife, a wristwatch – and $4 in cash. Murray was not the shooter. That was Carrie Henderson, then 22, who remains imprisoned for life.
The other three all did prison time and have been released, although one, Johnny Pinson, is back in prison for a robbery he committed in Broward County in 2013.
Murray pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison, with the possibility of parole after 25 years. However, the parole commission never allowed him out, even though he did not have an extensive or violent discipline record while behind bars.
“You feel you’re ready to be a productive member of society,” Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Stacy Glick asked him.
“Yes ma’am,” Murray said.