Six years after 15-year-old Jason Maharaj was gunned down in a North Miami Burger King parking lot, his family members described his life and lost potential Friday in an emotional sentencing for the young teen’s killer.
"He had a really amazing future," said uncle Shiva Maharaj on the stand. "He had the rest of his life to live."
Instead, Johnathan Simon, 27, will spend the rest of his life in prison for the September 2009 murder. Simon was sentenced to two concurrent life sentences without the possibility of parole.
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Maharaj, a North Miami High School student, was hanging out with his friends near a North Miami Burger King along West Dixie Highway when they were approached by a man, according to Miami-Dade Assistant State Attorney Jonathan Borst at trial. An argument broke out, and surveillance video captured images of the friends running away across the parking lot. Maharaj tripped and fell, and footage showed the killer shooting the teenager, still lying on the ground, multiple times.
The footage did not show the killer’s face and defense lawyer Scott Miller had argued that no physical evidence tied Simon to the crime. But jurors rejected that argument after just an hour of deliberations, finding him guilty of first-degree murder and attempted murder.
At Friday’s sentencing, Maharaj’s relatives filled two rows, many with heads bowed. On the other side of the courtroom, Simon’s mother Violett, his sister Tamara and a friend fought back tears.
When Maharaj’s uncle and two aunts approached the podium to address the judge, they described a happy, always smiling kid who loved watching football and hoped one day to be a cop. Born in Trinidad and Tobago, Maharaj moved to America when he was just 16 months old with his father and an extended family that helped raise him when his mother could not immigrate as well.
"Jason was the youngest in our family," Shiva Maharaj said. "We all wanted the best for Jason."
They also spoke to Simon, sitting in the corner in red prison scrubs, his mouth pressed into a thin line.
"Why did you do it?" asked aunt Nirmala Richard, adding she knew she wouldn’t get an answer. "You destroyed Jason’s life."
Simon mumbled something, then said more loudly, "I didn’t kill nobody."
On the other side of the courtroom, sister Tamara Simon tried to stop him, saying, "Johnathan!"
Before the sentence was delivered, defense attorney Miller asked Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Dennis Murphy for a lighter sentence to "allow Johnathan to salvage some portion of his life."
"Cases like this are tragic for every family in every direction," Miller said.
But the Florida law required a mandatory life sentence, Murphy reminded him. "My hands are tied."
Simon, who was accused of attacking another inmate in jail after his arrest, pled guilty to a reduced charge of battery against another inmate and received another sentence of three years, with credit for time served.
The sentence brought some peace after six years of court dates, family members said.
"Justice has been served," said aunt Judy Hosein afterward. "It still can’t bring him back."
Simon’s mother and sister said they were sympathetic for Maharaj’s family, adding that she and her family were also losing their son.
"No one’s winning in this situation," said sister Tamara Simon.
"They may think that he doesn’t have remorse, but he does," she added of her brother’s comment in the courtroom. "I know my brother, I know he’s hurting on the inside."