'He killed ... for no reason'
By CHRISTOPHER GOFFARD, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Even as he pleaded guilty Wednesday to the 1999 mass murder at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel, Silvio Izquierdo-Leyva wouldn't give those touched by his carnage the one thing they needed: an explanation.
What drove him to shoot to death four co-workers and a stranger? Speaking through his lawyer, Izquierdo-Leyva said he didn't know.
But the 38-year-old former hotel laundryman told doctors that evil voices bedeviled him, and that he thought co-workers laughed behind his back because they thought he was gay.
Six doctors agreed he suffered severe mental illness during the shooting rampage on Dec. 30, 1999, and the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office dropped its call for the death penalty in exchange for life in prison without parole.
Loved ones of the victims packed the courtroom, and several said they didn't hate Izquierdo-Leyva and would pray for him.
Coretta Perkins, the granddaughter of Jerline Dobson, a hotel worker who survived a gunshot to her liver, felt otherwise.
"This man is evil," Perkins said. "He killed people for no reason. He needs to die." Spontaneous applause filled the aisles as she took her seat. Later, people thanked Perkins for saying what they felt but lacked the courage to say in the courtroom.
A Cuban refugee who speaks little English, Izquierdo-Leyva had worked at the Radisson only a few months. Co-workers said they mostly left him alone.
But a persecution complex already was full-blown, doctors said. He told doctors a man he attacked in Mobile, Ala., in 1997 touched his buttocks, and voices in his head told him it had ruined his life. To quell his torment, he told doctors, he turned to Santeria, a religion with African roots that involves sacrificial rites.
When co-workers smiled or laughed, Izquierdo-Leyva thought they were enjoying a joke at his expense. On the day of the shooting, the hotel was bustling with noise, laughter, and good spirits: It was payday, the end of the year, and workers were getting off the clock.
"He got worse and worse, thinking they were laughing about him," said prosecutor Shirley Williams. "He said he felt like everything was closing in on him."
He took two guns from his car and stalked the hotel halls while unleashing a barrage of bullets. People ran and dived behind doors. He seemed to target people he worked with, rather than guests at the hotel on the Courtney Campbell Parkway.
He killed co-workers Eric Pedroso, 29, Barbara Carter, 55, Jose R. Aguilar, 40, and George C. Jones, 44, and wounded three others. He then drove to West Tampa, where he killed motorist Dolores Perdomo, 56, while trying to steal her car.
When investigators searched his belongings, they found Santeria artifacts and the names of two co-workers Izquierdo-Leyva had written down. One of them was Carter. Prosecutors said he intended to put the names in freezing water, a Santeria rite to "freeze out" perceived evil intentions against him.
Jerline Dobson, 55, who walks with a cane because of her bullet wound, said she had no idea why he targeted her. When they worked together, she said, Izquierdo-Leyva would call her "Mami" and ask her to translate terms into English for him.
She heard of Izquierdo-Leyva's delusions of persecution for the first time Wednesday.
"It's a strange reason," said Dobson, noting that co-workers generally ignored him. "I'm satisfied that he did give a reason, but the reason is not satisfactory to me." Still, she said, it was more of an explanation than she had before.
"Every time I can't tie my shoe, I think about it," Dobson said. "I can't get in the bathtub without help."
Beyond the five counts of first-degree murder, Izquierdo-Leyva also pleaded guilty to multiple counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault, carjacking and attempted carjacking.
Sylvia Freeman, 30, said she had favored execution for Izquierdo-Leyva after losing her father,George Jones, in the shooting.
"I wanted him to burn," she said. But more than two years have passed, and she was satisfied with the life sentence handed down by Circuit Judge J. Rogers Padgett.
"He killed my father, the state kills him, the cycle just continues," Freeman said. "The killing needs to stop. He should just be in a one-man cell and stay there."
She doesn't think Izquierdo-Leyva was insane.
"To run somebody down like cattle, you mean to tell me that's insane?" Freeman said. "I don't think so. He knew who he wanted."
Katrease James, 31, who lost her fiance, Eric Pedroso, agreed: "I don't think he's crazy. Crazy people don't pick and choose their victims. I don't know what the reason was for it, but he meant to do it."
No one from Izquierdo-Leyva's family came to court Wednesday. Most of his family lives in Cuba.
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