TAMPA – Kyle Moran, who for two years has worked to build a life for himself after serving decades in prison for a murder he committed at 16, will have to return to prison, a judge said Tuesday morning.
Acting on directions from an appeals court, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez imposed a 40-year sentence and gave Moran 45 days to get his house in order. He is due to go to Orient Road Prison on April 7.
This result seemed unfair to some.
Moran, 43, served 24 years in prison for the shooting death of Manuel Huerta, 73 in 1994. He was initially sentenced to life, but was released in 2019 on the wings of a series of opinions from the Supreme Court of the United States and Florida who changed the way. the criminal justice system deals with accused minors.
Since his release, Moran has been on a bridging program through Abe Brown Ministries and has taken courses at Ready4Work Hillsborough while looking for a job. For over a year, he has worked for a company installing fire sprinklers in new buildings. He saved money for a house and wants to get married.
Now his future looks bleak.
Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren said after Tuesday’s hearing he didn’t like the outcome, but stressed his office was bound by Florida law, which requires a mandatory minimum sentence 40 years for minors who commit murder.
“I don’t like the outcome or the law that demands it,” Warren said. “But the legislature has given no choice to prosecutors or judges in this situation, and I cannot close my eyes and ignore the law just because I disagree.
The crime took place on June 7, 1994. Moran and two teenage friends escaped from their Massachusetts hometown to meet in Tampa. Wanting to return to the north, but short of money and a car, they decided to commit theft. They forcibly entered Huerta’s home in Palmetto Beach.
Huerta, a retired bus driver from Tampa who was making breakfast in his kitchen, confronted the teens with a knife. Moran pointed at a .22 caliber rifle and demanded money and car keys. Huerta tapped the end of the gun with the knife. Moran shot him in the face.
Moran and his two co-defendants, Floyd LaFountain and Michael DuPuis, have been charged with burglary, theft and murder.
DuPuis entered into a plea deal and was sentenced to 20 years. LaFountain and Moran both received life sentences.
In recent years, however, brain science has shown that young people are less able to appreciate the consequences of their behavior. A series of Supreme Court rulings declared unconstitutional to sentence minors to life imprisonment.
LaFountain was released in 2017, after serving 22 years.
Moran had his own re-conviction hearing a year later. Judge Fernandez heard testimony about child abuse and the circumstances that led Moran to the worst mistake he ever made. She heard testimony from a neuropsychologist who said Moran was amenable to rehabilitation and posed no danger to society.
The victim’s son also testified, saying he wanted Moran to stay locked up.
“Murder is murder,” said Bob Huerta. “I want him to pay for this.”
Moran offered an emotional apology.
“I have hurt a lot of people and I am so sorry from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “And I always will be for as long as I live.”
Judge Fernandez sentenced Moran to 24 years, a time he had already served. He had to serve an additional year for an escape conviction he received in 2003.
He was released in March 2019 and placed on 20-year probation.
The state appealed, arguing that because Moran was the one who committed the murder, the law required a 40-year sentence. The judge concluded that the law was unconstitutional because it limited his ability to craft an individualized sentence.
An appeals court disagreed, ordering Moran to be sentenced again to 40 years. The decision became final last month.
Moran is close to serving 25 years, at which point he can apply for a review of his sentence. A judge could then convert the rest to probation. But no one seems to know exactly how close Moran is to the 25-year mark, or how much longer he will spend in prison.
The victim’s son did not attend Tuesday’s hearing.
In court, Moran told the judge he would comply with the return to prison order.
“It won’t be a problem at all,” he says. “I fully intend to do so.”
His lawyer, Deputy Public Defender Deborah Goins, wrote in a court document that Moran would immediately seek a review of the sentence. The newspaper also said that the defense will ask Moran to obtain a release from prison, pending the outcome of that examination. It is not known whether such a request would be accepted.
“He’s already proven he’s rehabilitated,” his sister, Marriedah Roberts, said, crying. “This is the goal of the penal system. It’s like putting someone in the hospital after they’ve already healed.