State Attorney Ed Brodsky said Thursday he will not seek the maximum possible punishment -- 15 years in prison -- for the couple convicted of having sex in public on Bradenton Beach.
Brodsky, elected state attorney for the 12th Judicial District, said his office never intended to seek the maximum 15-year sentence against Jose Caballero, 40, or Elissa Alvarez, 20, for having sex on Cortez Beach in July.
The couple was found guilty Monday on charges of lewd and lascivious exhibition after a video played in court showed Alvarez moving on Caballero in a sexual manner. Witnesses testified a 3-year-old girl had seen the couple.
The charge carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison, and requires both to register as sex offenders.
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"It was never our intention to seek 15 years for either of them," Brodsky said. "That's not a reasonable sentence."
Defense attorney Ronald Kurpiers said because Caballero served a previous prison sentence for cocaine trafficking within the past three years and the prosecution had filed prison release reoffender paperwork, Caballero would be sentenced to the maximum sentence of 15 years under Florida's prisoner release reoffender law.
Kurpiers said if Brodsky was saying they weren't seeking 15 years, it meant they had withdrawn the PRR.
"I've never experienced that before in all my years in law," Kurpiers said. "I'm honestly emotional about it. That was a huge hurdle."
Brodsky said he wasn't willing to discuss what kind of sentences they will seek and a sentencing hearing hasn't been scheduled.
Kurpiers said the judge would now have some discretion instead of an automatic sentence for Caballero. Kurpiers said he would try to have the sentence lowered.
"I need to get out my knee pads so I can get down and beg," Kurpiers said.
Brodsky refuted the claim he would be seeking the maximum punishment after Families Against Mandatory Minimums, a Washington, D.C.-based interest group that fights mandatory minimum prison sentences, said they called his office Thursday to urge prosecutors not seek 15 years in prison for Caballero.
"As outrageous as Mr. Caballero's behavior was, it would be even more outrageous for the state to make him spend 15 years in prison," said Julie Stewart, president and founder of the organization, in a release. "As a parent, I would not want my children to see people having sex on a public beach in the middle of the day. But as a taxpayer, I would be even more offended to waste hundreds of thousands of dollars to punish Mr. Caballero's irresponsible behavior."
Brodsky said he was unaware the group had contacted his office until he spoke with the Bradenton Herald.
A campaign was also launched Thursday on Causes.com titled: "Free couple facing 15 years in prison for sex on the beach." Led by Vitor Ribeiro, whose Facebook account lists Portugal as home, the campaign received more than 500 signatures by early Thursday evening.
"Having sex on the beach is not a crime worthy of such a barbaric sentence," reads the campaign's subtitle.
Stewart said the state plea offer to Caballero for two and a half years in prison prior to the trial was evidence it didn't believe he deserved 15 years for the crime. Brodsky confirmed they had made the plea offer, and Caballero chose to reject it to go to trial.
Kurpiers said he "strongly recommended" his clients take the plea deal, but ultimately it was their choice to refuse.
"I hate to say it, but they honestly believed that they didn't do anything wrong, and they didn't think the jury would think they had done anything wrong," Kurpiers said. "The question is if they were skewed in that thinking, and I think that yes, they were."
Alvarez and Caballero are in the Manatee County jail awaiting sentencing.
Kate Irby, Herald online/political reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7055 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @KateIrby.
Go to Bradenton.com to read more.