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Teen gets life sentence in best friend's murder

A Miami teenager will spend the rest of his life in prison for stabbing his friend to death in a middle-school bathroom four years ago.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Miami teenager was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for killing his best friend, who was stabbed 42 times and left to bleed to death in a middle-school bathroom four years ago.

A judge imposed the mandatory sentence under Florida law on Michael Hernandez, 18. A jury who rejected his insanity defense convicted Hernandez in September of first-degree murder in the 2004 slaying of Jaime Gough. Both were 14 when the killing occurred.

Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger also sentenced Hernandez to 30 additional years for attempting to kill another student.

As about two dozen members of the extended Gough family looked on, Schlesinger told Hernandez he caused “a parent’s worst nightmare” by killing a youngster who had been his friend.

“Jaime trusted you and for that innocent trust, Jaime would die alone and frightened on that cold tile floor,” Schlesinger said. “You were not insane under Florida law on that day.”

Jaime’s father, Jorge Gough, said his family has forgiven Hernandez. But in court Friday, he looked his son’s killer in the eye and pleaded: “How could you? Why? It hurts, Michael. It hurts.”

Then he added: “You hurt a lot of people, Michael. You hurt a lot of people. You hurt them bad. I hope and wish for you that you find peace.”

Hernandez glanced occasionally at Gough, but showed no reaction. He declined to speak.

Kathy Hernandez, Michael’s mother, did address the court, at one point turning to the Gough family and telling them she was sorry. But she also said her son suffers from severe mental illness and doesn’t deserve his fate.

Although Hernandez had claimed he was not guilty because of insanity, he was ruled competent to stand trial.

“As a mother, what do you say on the day your son is sentenced to die in prison?” she said. “What I saw was a mentally ill child was treated like a competent adult. My son is now just another statistic.”

Defense attorney Richard Rosenbaum criticized a system in which a mentally ill teenager could be sent to adult prison instead of getting treatment.

“This is the juvenile death penalty. This is what we all fear the most for our children — that a child can be locked away to die,” he said.

Trial testimony revealed that Hernandez wrote out a hit list that included Gough, fellow student Andre Martin and his own sister because they might have known of his desire to become a serial killer.

Hernandez confessed in cold, clinical detail to police about how he lured Gough into the Southwood Middle School bathroom in February 2004 and stabbed him repeatedly.

Defense mental health experts said Hernandez was a paranoid schizophrenic or at least delusional. But prosecution experts said that although he had some mental problems, he met the legal definition of sanity and had made a choice to be a killer.

Although sentencing was in Miami, Hernandez was convicted by a jury in Orlando. The trial was moved because of intense media coverage in Miami, where the crime occurred.