NEW PORT RICHEY — Jason Rios will spend up to half a century in prison for the 2015 murders of his mother and niece and the attempted murder of another niece.
Rios, 28, could be eligible to be released in 39 years. By then, he will be 67 — and still subject to a lifetime of probation.
That was the plea deal Rios and his attorneys struck with prosecutors on Monday. It was approved by Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Mary Handsel, one week before Rios was scheduled to stand trial.
He had faced first-degree murder charges in the deaths of his mother and niece following the brutal tire iron attack. If convicted, he would have received an automatic life sentence. He ended up pleading guilty to lesser charges: two counts of second-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.
Handsel sentenced Rios to 50 years in prison for each murder count, and 43 years for the attempted murder. Those sentences will run concurrently, so with the four years he has already spent in custody and other factors, he could be eligible for release in about 39 years.
Defense attorney Nicholas Dorsten said he was prepared to argue that Rios should be found not guilty because he was insane at the time of the crime. But Rios wanted the plea deal, Dorsten said, to ease the pain he had inflicted upon his family on Feb. 5, 2015.
That morning Rios attacked his mother and nieces in the midst of what his family believes was a mental breakdown. By that time Rios had already been committed three times under Florida’s Baker Act, a law that allows individuals to be temporarily held in a psychiatric facility if they are deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
His father, Ernesto Rios, told the Tampa Bay Times then that he was in the shower when he heard screams, and found his son attacking one of his granddaughters. Jason Rios was bludgeoning one girl while she lay in bed. Ernest Rios wrestled his son outside. Deputies found Jason Rios next door with self-inflicted wounds to his neck and face from a power drill.
By then, Jason Rios had killed his mother, Angela Rios, 55, and a niece, Jenica Randazzo, 9. The other niece, then age 7, survived the attack.
Since then, the surviving members of Jason Rios’ family have stood by him, Dorsten said. They feel they failed him for not seeking long-term care or ensuring he remained on his medication. His father gave an impassioned and tearful speech to his son in court, the attorney said.
"They never once turned their back on him," Dorsten said.
Handsel recommended Jason Rios be housed in the Zephyrhills Correctional Institute, which would put him close to his family. That will ultimately be up to the Department of Corrections.
"He’s just hoping to see his father," Dorsten said.
Contact Josh Solomon at (813) 909-4613 or [email protected] Follow @ByJoshSolomon.