Crime

Death-metal lyrics led to life in prison for school killer. He's not going anywhere.

Video: Judge sentences Michael Hernandez to prison for the rest of his life

George Gough, father of Jaime Gough, who was killed by classmate Michael Hernandez, above, talks about the new sentencing by Miami-Dade County Judge John Schlesinger on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, at Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building in Miami.
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George Gough, father of Jaime Gough, who was killed by classmate Michael Hernandez, above, talks about the new sentencing by Miami-Dade County Judge John Schlesinger on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016, at Richard E. Gerstein Justice Building in Miami.

Michael Hernandez, the teen who aspired to become a killer before savagely stabbing a classmate to death at Southwood Middle School, will remain in prison for life.

A Miami appeals court on Wednesday upheld his second life sentence for the 2004 murder of 14-year-old Jaime Gough inside the middle school, a crime that stunned South Florida.

Hernandez was also 14 when he slit Jaime's throat inside a bathroom at the Palmetto Bay school campus. He has been in custody since the crime.

Originally sentenced to life after his trial in 2008, Hernandez was granted a new sentencing after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 banned automatic life terms without the possibility of parole for minors convicted of murder.

The decision in Miller v. Alabama said that such automatic sentences amounted to "cruel and unusual punishment" for juveniles whose brains had not fully formed, leaving them open to peer pressure and rash decisions. Courts must now hold full sentencing hearings so a judge may consider a defendant's youth.

At a new sentencing hearing in 2016, prosecutors presented evidence that Hernandez — while behind bars — remained fascinated by serial killers, gore and death-metal lyrics steeped in violent imagery.

Southwood
Michael Hernandez, who was convicted of murdering his classmate Jaime Gough at Southwood Middle School in 2004, enters the courtroom at Miami-Dade Criminal Court for resentencing in 2016. A court of appeals on Wednesday, May 16, 2018, upheld his life sentence. C.M. GUERRERO cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Hernandez's defense team argued that the judge was wrong to consider the death-metal lyrics because listening to the music was protected by the First Amendment.

But the Third District Court of Appeal ruled that the judge was allowed to consider Hernandez's "continued enthusiasm" about serial killers and murders. And his "continued interest in violent music and lyrics" was "directly relevant to his lack of remorse, his indifference to the sufferings of the victims and their families, and Hernandez's prospects of rehabilitation."

"I did not anticipate rainbows and unicorns and puppies but what I received was truly grotesque," Circuit Judge John Schlesinger said of the jail calls played in court that revealed Hernandez's interests, adding: "It paints a picture of a person fascinated by killers, by violent movies, violent music lyrics, violent books and violent current events."

The appeals court found that Schlesinger's 26-page order in meting out life was "supported by competent, substantial evidence."

The convicted killer will still get a another chance to persuade a judge to release him from prison. Under a newer Florida law, he will get a "judicial review" after 25 years behind bars — in about 11 years.

Under Wednesday's decision, Hernandez will also get a "judicial review" after 25 years for a separate attempted murder count. The teen also planned to murder another classmate but was never able to carry out the killing.

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