ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. – A man who gunned down his estranged wife and her best friend in the couple's upscale St. Johns County home in 2015 was sentenced to death Friday for their murders.
A jury unanimously recommended the death penalty for James Colley Jr. in July, and Circuit Judge Howard Maltz followed that recommendation Friday, saying Colley's conduct deserved the "harshest penalty" allowed by Florida law.
In addition to two counts of first-degree murder, Colley was convicted of two counts of attempted first-degree murder, two burglary counts and a count of aggravated stalking. Maltz tacked on life in prison sentences for the attempted murder charges.
"I wish it would have been different, but it's not, and I'm sorry for all parties involved," Colley said.
A Spencer hearing typically is the last chance for a defendant facing the death penalty to persuade the court to spare his life.
Speaking in measured words Friday, Maltz scoffed at Colley's claim that the murders were an accident, saying Colley “executed” the two women “in the prime of their lives” and “devastated” their families.
"You characterized what happened as a horrible accident," Maltz said to Colley. "Nothing could be further from the truth based upon the evidence that was presented. The evidence presented in this case establishes that these murders were committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner."
Colley killed his estranged wife, Amanda, and her best friend, Lindy Dobbins, when he went on a shooting spree inside the couple’s home on Aug. 27, 2015.
A woman who survived the deadly rampage testified that Colley showed up uninvited at the home, looking for a man he believed was in a relationship with Amanda Colley, 36. Earlier that day, Colley had been ordered by a judge not to have contact with his wife, who had an injunction against him.
Rachel Hendricks told jurors that she and Dobbins, 39, ran and hid in a walk-in closet after Colley appeared in the backyard of the home carrying a gun and opened fire.
Hendricks said Colley forced his way into the closet and held the gun to Dobbins' head as Hendricks ran for her life. She said she heard a shot as she fled.
Prosecutors said Amanda Colley heard her best friend being shot in the closet before James Colley found her, wounded on the bathroom floor, and shot her multiple times as she begged for her life.
The grisly murders were captured on an agonizing 911 call.
Colley took off after the shooting spree and was arrested after a traffic stop in Virginia hours later. He has been in custody ever since.
Colley did not speak in court Friday. His mother said after the sentencing, "I love my son no matter what, and the whole story was not told."
Colley’s attorney told News4Jax he plans to appeal for a new trial. Colley's conviction and sentence will be automatically appealed to the Florida Supreme Court.
The Colleys had two children, who are now being cared for by family, and Dobbins had three children, who are now being cared for by their father.
State Attorney R.J. Larizza, who attended the hearing and sat with the victims’ families, said “[f]or those who believe the death penalty to be barbaric, how would they feel if they were there to witness the cold and barbaric murders of Amanda and Lindy? It is our hope that the family will find some peace and comfort now that the defendant was held accountable for his actions.”