JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The family of an 83-year-old Gainesville man who was killed near Jacksonville International Airport in October was in court on Thursday for a preliminary hearing for a murder suspect in the killing.
Jacksonville police said Charles Soukup was shot and killed for the car he rented Oct. 25. His body was found in the woods days later.
Shanda Merritt, 34, pleaded not guilty Thursday to second-degree murder. Her 17-year-old son, Corey Harrington, and 17-year-old Raymond Austin are also charged in Soukup's death.
Soukup's family said Merritt kept her head down and did not make eye contact with them in court. The family said they wanted the suspect to know they were there because they want justice.
"It was just weird to see the person that could have done all this," said Ed Walsh, Soukup's son-in-law. "We don't even know though if (Merritt) is the one who actually shot him, or if it was the son or who it was. I'm not sure."
Walsh was one of the last people to see his father-in-law alive when he dropped him off at the airport to catch a plane to Ohio.
Police said that when Soukup couldn't get a seat on the flight, he tried to rent a car to go home, and at some point, the three suspects attacked him. Police won't say how, where or when.
The victim's family said not knowing what happened in those final moments is torment, especially when coming face-to-face with Merritt.
"We want to see somebody pay. That's it," Walsh said. "It's never going to be forgiveness. I don't know. I'm just numb. It's weird."
"Real sad when you have someone to commit such a crime and there was no reason for it," said Bruno Bellido, Soukup's nephew. "It makes me feel real bad and uncomfortable to see her face."
The family said they want their presence felt in the courtroom. They said that's because Soukup was a very religious man who loved his wife, whom he met while he was a missionary in Panama, and he cared deeply for his six children.
The family is adamant that each of the accused understand the life they took will not be forgotten, and his death will not go unpunished if they have anything to say about it.
"I want justice. I want the max," Bellido said. "I want justice for everyone that hurt my uncle. Everyone single one."
Merritt is next scheduled to be in court Jan. 26. Soukup's family said they will be there again.
Soukup, whose remains were not identified for weeks after his killing, will finally be laid to rest early next year on what would have been his 84th birthday.
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