TAMPA — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of Humberto Delgado Jr., who shot and killed Tampa police Cpl. Mike Roberts on a Sulphur Springs street nearly six years ago. The court ordered the case back before the trial judge to impose a life sentence.
The high court’s ruling was unanimous in setting aside the death sentence, though some voiced different reasons for reaching that conclusion.
“We do not downplay the fact that Cpl. Roberts lost his life as a result of Delgado’s actions,” the court wrote in its 27-page ruling, “however ... we are compelled to reduce Delgado’s sentence to life imprisonment because death is not a proportionate penalty. ”
Defense attorneys at the 2011 trial emphasized that Delgado was homeless and mentally ill when Roberts stopped him on Nebraska Avenue on a hot August night in 2009.
The jury that convicted Delgado voted 8-4 for death for the Virgin Islands native, former police officer and military veteran. Circuit Judge Emmett Lamar Battles went along with that recommendation, saying the aggravating circumstances were more compelling than the mitigating circumstances.
The high court saw it differently.
The aggravating circumstances in support of the death sentence — that Delgado pointed a gun at a second officer at the scene and that the shooting victim was a law enforcement officer — were outweighed by the mitigating circumstances, which included a lack of criminal history, mental illness, homelessness and that the homicide was not planned, the court ruled.
The court affirmed Delgado’s convictions of first-degree felony murder, carrying a concealed firearm, depriving a law enforcement officer of a means of communication and aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer.
Tampa police Chief Jane Castor issued this statement Thursday afternoon:
“We respect the justice system and those who have to make tough decisions. Regardless of the conclusion, it doesn’t bring Mike back and it doesn’t relieve the pain that his wife, son and his TPD family feel. His life sentence will still ensure he is held accountable for his actions.”
Prosecutors echoed the chief’s comments.
“We are disappointed but respect the court’s decision,” said Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office spokesman Mark Cox. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the Roberts’ family. Mr. Delgado will never see freedom and will die in prison for his violent actions.”
In the ruling, the high court said all six expert mental health witnesses at Delgado’s trial diagnosed him with “some form of bipolar disorder. Five specified a diagnosis of bipolar disorder with psychotic features.”
The court cited trial testimony saying Delgado had just walked about 15 miles from Oldsmar to Tampa to seek help and shelter from Veterans Affairs.
Roberts saw Delgado pushing a shopping cart along Nebraska Avenue in Sulphur Springs, “an area known for shopping-cart theft and other crimes committed by homeless individuals,” the ruling said.
Roberts asked Delgado for identification, and he complied. The officer began searching the shopping cart and a backpack and Delgado broke and ran and Roberts used a Taser to stop him. A fist fight ensued, ending with Delgado fatally shooting Roberts.
Five years before the murder, Delgado began having mental problems, testimony revealed. He distrusted the police and developed “a cycle of extreme paranoia and abnormal behavior that made Delgado’s mental health issues more apparent to his family and friends. Delgado began to believe that people were following him or sitting in trees outside his home watching him and his family.”
Delgado’s wife once had him involuntarily committed for mental health treatment.
Trial testimony also said Delgado began wearing gloves, walking with a cane and “claiming to be a character from the Bible. He would also set up mirrors in his home to catch demons at night and write ‘777’ on the doors of his apartment or on the back of pictures, according to trial testimony.
In June of 2009, Delgado moved in with his uncle in Oldsmar, but his abnormal behaviors continued, the ruling said.
“Day and night, he would pace throughout the house, in and out of different rooms, talking to himself,” the ruling said. “He was not sleeping and complained of constant headaches. He also maintained that people were trying to kill him and that he was not getting enough help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Delgado’s odd behavior frightened his uncle’s three daughters, and Delgado was asked to leave at the end of the month. Delgado instead left immediately.”
That was two weeks before the shooting and Delgado stayed with friends for a while. The night before the murder, testimony said, Delgado slept in a storage unit.