Jacksonville 'thrill kill' murderer seeks new sentencing hearing

Charles Southern was 17 when he took part in classmate's murder

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of two former University Christian students convicted in the “thrill kill” murder of their classmate has filed court documents seeking a more lenient prison sentence.

Charles Southern, 25, was originally sentenced in 2010 to life without the possibility of parole after he and co-defendant Connor Pridgen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in the shooting death of classmate Makia Coney.

Southern and Pridgen, then ages 17 and 16, lured Coney away from their school campus in February 2010, then took her to a secluded location off Powers Avenue. Prosecutors said the pair then took turns shooting the girl in the head, saying they wanted to know what killing someone felt like.

Following a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, which held that life sentences without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile convicts, both defendants were re-sentenced in 2017. Southern got life with a review after 25 years.

Now, Southern has filed a motion for post-conviction relief from his Miami-area prison cell, arguing he deserves another shot at getting out of prison. The motion argues that Southern’s attorney, Michael Bossen, was ineffective and that Circuit Judge Liz Senterfitt was biased.

DOCUMENT: Read Southern's motion for post-conviction relief

“The court’s statement to counsel that she would not sentence Southern to anything less than life based on the fact that the crime was second-degree murder would cause a reasonable fear that the judge would not be objective,” the motion said in part. “Therefore, reasonable counsel would have moved to have such a judge disqualified.”

Attorney Gene Nichols, who has no ties to the case, said prisoners serving life sentences often resort to questioning their original legal representation. He said when defendants cannot find another attorney to take their case, they represent themselves, like Southern is.

“Every defendant in a case like this has a chance,” Nichols said. “But realistically speaking, his motion will most likely be denied.”

Stephen Harper, a visiting professor of law at Florida International University, echoed that thought. He said defendants frequently file motions, citing “ineffective assistance of counsel.” But, he said, it’s rare that those motions are heard, and rarer still that they’re granted.

Harper, who runs the Florida Juvenile Re-sentencing and Review Project, which studies cases were young people seek leniency, said Southern’s case hinges on whether he can show that he has changed or matured substantially since the crime was committed.

“If he has changed substantially and the judge can show that, then a judge is supposed to consider that a give him a sentence of less than life without the possibility of parole,” Harper said. 

Southern has been transferred to the Duval County jail. He is expected to plead his case before a judge on Monday.

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