Student who stabbed classmate to death at Southwood Middle returns to court for sentencing

Michael Hernandez, who was convicted of murdering his classmate at Southwood Middle School in 2004, sits in the courtroom at Miami-Dade Criminal Court for re-sentencing on Wednesday, February 3, 2016.
Michael Hernandez, who was convicted of murdering his classmate at Southwood Middle School in 2004, sits in the courtroom at Miami-Dade Criminal Court for re-sentencing on Wednesday, February 3, 2016. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.comB

Before he was sent to prison for life, teenager Michael Hernandez obsessed over horror movies, serial killers and detailed plans to murder a classmate in a bathroom stall at his Palmetto Bay middle school.

And now that he’s back in court for a new sentencing — as a 26-year-old convict with more than a decade behind bars — prosecutors on Wednesday sought to portray Hernandez as the same twisted mind behind one of South Florida’s most notorious murders.

They played recorded jail calls of Hernandez discussing H.H. Holmes, America’s first serial killer, and listening to death-metal lyrics laden with violent imagery. A jail officer said he was recently caught with two shanks in his jail cell.

And a state-hired psychologist testified that even recently, Hernandez remained “defiant” and “had no emotion at all” when recounting the grisly murder.

“He is the exact same person as he was when he was 14,” prosecutor Gail Levine told a Miami-Dade judge on Wednesday in asking for another life sentence. “He remains a danger to this community.”

Hernandez’ re-sentencing started Wednesday — exactly a dozen years to the day when he stabbed 14-year-old Jaime Gough to death at Southwood Middle. Defense lawyers, hoping to show Hernandez was a troubled teen who deserves a shot at redemption, will detail their case later in the week.

He 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.

Circuit Judge John Schlesinger could still sentence Hernandez to life in prison. Under recently enacted Florida law, Hernandez would nonetheless be eligible for a judge to consider a possible release after 25 years behind bars.

Back in February 2004, Hernandez carefully planned Jaime’s murder, lured him into a bathroom stall and stabbed him more than 40 times.

“I took the knife out and proceed to slit his throat. Left to right,” Hernandez casually told a detective in a video confession played in court Wednesday.

A jury in 2008 found him guilty of first-degree murder, rejecting Hernandez's claim that he was legally insane at the time of the killing. He was later granted a new sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012 outlawed mandatory life prison terms without the chance for parole, saying it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment for minors.

The state’s evidence on Wednesday included recordings of jail calls from Hernandez describing serial killers, joking with his pen-pal girlfriend about his inability to cry and listening to the death-metal music.

Many of the calls were with his father, Jesus Hernandez, who took the stand Wednesday and described how he often played the songs and researched information on the Internet for his son.

In one excerpt played by prosecutors, Jesus Hernandez explained the history of a 1980s Satantic-themed killer named Ricky Kasso. “Why do they call him the ‘Acid King?’ ” Michael Hernandez asked his dad.

“He often took drugs, marijuana, hashish, acid — hence the name Acid King,” the father explained.

Jesus Hernandez also gave his son background on a book written about the country’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes.

But the father explained to defense lawyer Manny Alvarez that he played the death-metal for his son as a way to bond over music, some of it “complex” tunes with political and social commentary. He believes his son should be out of prison, getting mental-health treatment.

“I think he needs help because he’s not in the right place,” Jesus Hernandez testified.

Among other testimony presented Monday:

▪  In a letter read to the court, Jaime’s parents said they had forgiven Hernandez “spiritually” but asked the judge for a stiff punishment. “He is a threat to the community,” Jaime and Maria Gough wrote.

▪  Andre Martin, 25, a former classmate and friend who was Hernandez’s original murder target, testified that he now runs karate schools because of his brush with death. “You never know when you’re going to need to utilize those skills,” Martin said.

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