JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A 15-year-old killer was sentenced Monday to 30 years in prison for the 2014 murder of a homeless Jacksonville man.
Sharron Townsend was 12 when he shot and killed 54-year-old Thomas Trent on Jacksonville's Westside.
Although the murder weapon was never found, there was surveillance footage of Townsend running away from the scene with another teen who later worked with police to bring charges against Townsend, who eventually pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Prosecutors called the murder on 103rd Street a random killing.
Trent was described as a good man with a kind and loving nature.
"He seemed like he was a very bright man who actually enjoyed sleeping under the stars," assistant state attorney Alan Mizrahi said. "That was his life choice, and he was loved by his family."
After a day of testimony last month, a Duval County judge decided that he would have to take some time before deciding on a sentence for one of the youngest convicted killers in Jacksonville history.
Townsend was sentenced Monday to 30 years, of which he must serve at least 10 years. He was credited with 964 days of time served, or more than 2½ years. He was also sentenced to 10 years of probation and will have to undergo mental health and psychiatric counseling.
During his probation, he will have a curfew for the first six months and will have to make a good-faith effort to find a job.
Townsend has 30 days to appeal the sentence, which can be reviewed after 15 years. If he's not released after that review, the sentence can be reviewed again after 25 years.
When Trent was shot with a .22-caliber pistol in a parking lot, Townsend was on probation for burglary. He was charged as an adult.
"There's no such thing as perfect justice,” Mizrahi said. “We can't bring back Thomas Trent, but the state of Florida feels, in accordance with this plea agreement, that this was an appropriate sentence."
Family members of Trent and Townsend were emotional in court on Monday, but declined to comment on the sentence.
Background of a killer
A series of character witnesses testified last month that Townsend was born to a teenage mother and grew up in horrific conditions. His lawyer said he left that home after a relative hit him with a metal pipe. That was right before Townsend killed Trent.
Defense witness Dr. Geoffrey Colino, a forensic neurologist, testified via Skype that Townsend's prenatal records showed that his mother smoked marijuana and tobacco during pregnancy. He also testified about alcohol and cocaine use.
Circuit Judge Jack Shemer said that although it was troubling, Townsend's upbringing was not reason to murder.
"What it doesn't explain was your conscious decision to point a gun, pull the trigger, and take the life of Thomas Trent," Shemer said. "That was a decision you made on your own."
Townsend's mother, Nekia Pollard, was 16 when he was born. Colino testified about Townsend's development pre- and post-birth. Colino said Townsend was born jittery, tremulous and irritable, likely because of toxins in his system or from withdrawal.
Colino also said Townsend started receiving behavioral medication as early as the age of 8, and that Townsend had been off his medication for less than two months when Trent was murdered.
Part of the prosecution's argument was that Townsend's psychological profile was no excuse for murder.
Prosecutors cross-examined Colino, asking him: "How does the fact that they have problems with impulse control make them shoot a person in the head?"
“That's a very silly question,” Colino replied. “It doesn't make someone shoot another person in the head. It means that if an impulse arises, a person with a frontal lobe lesion or frontal lobe abnormality will have considerable difficulty suppressing that impulse."
Dr. Joseph Wu, associate professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Irvine, testified that Townsend's brain shows evidence of excessive alcohol damage in utero by his mother.
Sonya Flynn, a forensic social worker who worked with Townsend, testified for the defense.
"From the time he was 3 or 4, until about school age, they lived out on the street. And when I interviewed Nekia, she said that was most frightening part of her life," Flynn said. "She said that she tried to shield the children by finding a bush they could sleep under."
Flynn said she had worked with Townsend since he was first incarcerated. She said his life had been dysfunctional, with no good male role models, no normalcy and a lot of moving around, and he never developed coping skills.
"(He) had no real grasp of what's wrong and right," she said.
It was also revealed during the testimony that Townsend even sent a letter to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry about how young people can stay out of trouble.
Defense witnesses said their goal was not to excuse the murder, but perhaps lessen the sentence.
Trent's family said last month that they wanted Townsend to get the maximum possible punishment.
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