JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A judge upheld a life sentence Thursday for a man convicted of killing a nursing student in 2006 when he was 17 years old.
Kimothy Simmons will now be eligible for a sentence review after 25 years, because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that juveniles cannot be sentenced to life without parole. With credit for time served, Simmons will be eligible for review in about 14 years.
Simmons was 17 in March 2006 when he went to 23-year-old Sarah Whitlock’s Riverside apartment. Police said he was dressed as a police officer in clothing that he stole. Once inside, he stabbed her more than two dozen times.
Two years later, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life without parole.
Her parents said they were relieved Thursday when the judge ordered that Simmons remain sentenced to life in prison.
The resentencing hearing stemmed from a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that gave people who were sentenced to life without parole when they were under the age of 18 a chance at a new sentence.
They described Whitlock as a kind, loving student who enjoyed helping others.
"We miss our kid every day. Some wounds just never heal fully, but we keep our pictures up at the house," Whitlock's mother, Paula Whitlock, said. "We still talk about memories we have on the holidays. It's not like we try to pretend that she was never there."
Paula Whitlock and her husband, Gary Whitlock, said being back in the courtroom for the past few weeks as the court mulled Simmons' resentencing added salt to those wounds. They said family and friends helped them remain strong throughout until they got the news they had been hoping for Thursday.
"I'm just very happy that nine years ago it was a wise and a just sentence, and even in light of additional evidence presented by the defense today, it's equally wise and just, so I'm very happy with the decision," Gary Whitlock said.
Now that Simmons will have a sentence review, he is allowed to participate in rehabilitation programs.
In arguing for a lesser sentence earlier this month, assistant public defender Kate Bedell said Simmons was born into dysfunction and has more stability in prison than he has ever had in his life. She said not only can he rehabilitate, but he needs that opportunity.
The state acknowledged the negative environment Simmons was raised in, but said Whitlock's parents will never get their daughter back.
"(He) went to that house dressed in police attire; ended up going into that house and stabbing her -- I believe it was at least 31 times," prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda said.
De la Rionda said after the sentencing Thursday that he's humbled to have become part of the Whitlocks' family.
“It was a brutal, brutal murder, Sarah Whitlock was a wonderful human being, and that's what I want people to remember,” De la Rionda said. “That she had a lot of life to give. She cared about other people. She did everything she could to make this world a better place, and this man, through his actions, extinguished that.”