JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Before the four men who pleaded guilty in connection with the shooting death of a 7-year-old girl learned how long they’ll spend in prison, the parents of Heidy Rivas-Villanueva -- who was hit by the crossfire between a robbery victim and suspects while in the parking lot of a Westside shopping mall -- shared their grief in court.
Heidy was sitting in a car with her father and sister on Aug. 11, 2018, when she was struck in the head by a bullet. She died in her father’s arms at the hospital.
That father, Leonel Rivas, told the Circuit Judge Mark Borello on Friday that he has nightmares and hasn’t been able to sleep an entire night since his daughter’s death.
“A father supposed to protect his child, but all I could do is hold her lifeless body,” Rivas said in a statement read by the prosecutor. "I was forced to say goodbye to my princess and losing my mind in that moment.”
Heidy’s mother, Angelica Villanueva, said their youngest child asks where his sister is every day. She condemned the senseless, irresponsible and selfish act that “forced us to bury our beloved Heidy.”
“These men choose to drag her into their dark and criminal plan when they pulled the trigger and here we are in a courtroom full of sorrow,” Villanueva said in a statement. “This hole in my heart will never ever heal.”
Stanley Harris III, Abrion Price, Trevonte Phoenix had each pleaded guilty to murder charges in connection with her death. Edward Garcia had pleaded guilty to accessory after the fact.
The defendants were sentenced separately, with Price, 23, going first. After his statement to the judge -- “I am not a thug and I do have compassion" -- Borello sentenced him to 30 years in prison for second-degree murder. By state law, he must serve at least 10 years because the crime involved a gun.
Phoenix, who is 19 but was a minor at the time of the crime, had also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder. Phoenix wept as he talked about the mistakes he made and told the Villanueva family, “I understand that my actions took your daughter’s life.”
Borello also sentenced Phoenix to 30 years in prison. He must serve 15 years because the sentence can be reviewed.
Harris, 20, who forensics experts said fired the shot that struck Heidy, apologized to both the Villanueva family and his own for the pain he caused.
“I pray every day every night for her soul,” Harris said of Heidy.
Borello sentenced Harris to 20 years on a charge of third-degree murder and five years for discharging a firearm from a vehicle.
Garcia, 29, who police said was the getaway driver, was sentenced to 527 days, which was the amount of time he has been in jail awaiting sentencing. He will not be released, but be sent to Tallahassee to face a burglary charge.
Harris, Price and Phoenix will also receive credit for the time they have been held since their arrests. Garcia’s mother, Kezia Holmes, is still awaiting trial for tampering with evidence.
The shootout that killed Heidy began as a setup that Price and Phoenix arranged over social media under the pretense of a gun sale, police said. The pair planned to rob the buyer in the parking lot of an IHOP restaurant next to the shopping center.
Harris arrived with the buyer and was serving as a lookout when he realized it was a robbery and gunfire erupted.
Prosecutors said trajectory patterns and other evidence, including video surveillance, revealed the bullet that struck Heidy was fired from Harris’ gun.