LARGO — Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., charged with the shooting death of Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek in December 2014, pleaded guilty Thursday to first-degree murder.
Kondek's wife, family, and dozens of police officers watched as Parilla, 26, walked up to the lectern with his two defense attorneys. After Pinellas Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone accepted his plea, Parilla unfolded a one-page letter he wrote to Kondek's family.
"I'm writing this apology to ask you for your forgiveness. I didn't want to take the life of no one, let alone a hero," Parilla read. "I am not a monster and I'm sorry for causing pain to the community."
Parilla's guilty plea means there won't be a trial. During his sentencing, a jury will decide if he should spend his life in prison or be condemned to death row. Under a new Florida law passed this year, juries in death penalty cases must be unanimous.
After the hearing, Tarpon Springs police Chief Robert Kochen said he would like Parilla to be sentenced to death.
"We fully support that," Kochen said. "We are talking about one of our heroes, one of our police officers that this guy murdered in cold blood."
Bjorn Brunvand, one of Parilla's attorneys, said his client has always wanted to plead guilty.
"We're hopeful that it shows acceptance of responsibility, it shows that he's willing to give up certain constitutional rights," Brunvand said. "He's saving taxpayers significant amounts of money, hopefully saving the family from an unnecessary trial as it relates to guilt and innocence."
Before dawn on Dec. 21, 2014, Parilla was at a party in Holiday when he and a friend drove down to Glen's Eureka apartments at 199 Grand Blvd. in Tarpon Springs in a white Hyundai Elantra.
He was there to find his former roommate, Jareem Roach. Parilla believed he snitched on him about his drug use, which led to an arrest warrant for violating his probation.
Parilla searched for Roach, banging on doors and waving a gun, which had been stolen from a car in Jacksonville. Music blared from the car stereo. Just after 2 a.m., Tarpon Springs dispatchers received a noise complaint at the apartment building. Kondek, a 17-year veteran, volunteered to respond alone while other officers were tied up with a bar fight.
He was confronted by Parilla, who shot at Kondek several times. One bullet struck Kondek above his bulletproof vest.
Parilla got into the Hyundai and ran over Kondek as Roach fired at the fleeing car. Half a mile north at Athens and Cross streets, Parilla slammed into a power pole and darted out of the car, but officers caught up to him.
Paramedics rushed Kondek a mile away to Florida Hospital North Pinellas. He died at 3:02 a.m.
Before joining the Tarpon Springs Police Department, Kondek worked for the New York City Police Department for five years. He moved to Florida to be closer to family and joined the Tarpon Springs force in 1997.
He worked the midnight shift so he could spend time with his children during the day and coach his youngest daughter's soccer team.
Before Kondek's murder, Parilla had just been released from prison after a three-year stint on an array of charges, including sale and delivery of cocaine and leaving the scene of a crash involving an injury.
His sentencing hearing is set for Nov. 27. During the penalty phase of a case, prosecutors present evidence in favor of the defendant's execution, called aggravating factors, and defense attorneys present evidence against the death penalty.
But the hearing may be rescheduled. In court Thursday, his attorneys said they've been unable to reach some witnesses who live in St. Croix since the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria. Parilla lived there for a few years.
"It's a piece of the puzzle that is absolutely essential to tell his story to the jury as we try to save his life," Brunvand said.