JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – One of two former University Christian School students convicted in the “thrill kill” murder of their classmate argued in court Monday that bad advice from his attorney and bias from the judge landed him with a life sentence.
Charles Southern, 25, represented himself in court, asking for a shorter sentence of 40 years in prison.
Southern and Connor Pridgen, then ages 17 and 16, lured classmate Makia 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.
Southern and Pridgen pleaded guilty to second-degree murder charges in Coney's death and were sentenced in 2010 to life without parole.
But a 2012 Supreme Court ruling that life sentences without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile convicts gave both defendants new sentencing hearings in 2017. Southern got life with a review after 25 years.
Southern's motion to lessen his sentence to 40 years under the state's Youthful Offender rule argues that Southern’s attorney, Michael Bossen, was ineffective and that Circuit Judge Liz Senterfitt was biased.
“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.”
Bossen testified Monday that certain crimes, even murder, can qualify for Youthful Offender status, but he said he agreed with the state that Southern did not meet the standard.
The state also argued that Southern understood what rights he gave up when he entered into the plea agreement with the state and under oath said he was satisfied with his services when he was sentenced.
Senterfitt said she would consider Southern’s argument and return at a later date with a response.