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Cooperation doesn't earn lenient sentence

By COLLEEN JENKINS
Published March 7, 2007


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TAMPA - First, Garrett Marc Nunes did something terrible: He helped rob and kill another teenager during a drug deal.

Then he did something good: He confessed his role and led detectives to the triggerman.

But the right didn't erase the wrong, and on Monday a jury found Nunes guilty of first-degree murder, armed robbery and arson. A judge sentenced the 21-year-old Brandon man to consecutive life prison sentences without parole.

Nunes' attorney and parents said the case is the result of a runaway justice system.

"We have a system that throws away our kids," father Mitch Nunes said Tuesday.

In September 2003, then-17-year-old Nunes was riding in the back of Eric Michael Harris' car to complete a drug deal. Authorities say Nunes and another passenger, 19-year-old Pablo Sandoval, robbed Harris of cocaine and a wallet before Sandoval shot him twice in the neck. Sandoval has not yet gone to trial.

Harris, 19, was dead when the teens doused him and his red Toyota with gasoline and Nunes set the car on fire.

Nunes, encouraged by his parents and attorney Caroline Tesche, helped authorities break the case. His parents allowed their home to be searched and bugged.

Nunes refused a 30-year plea offer from prosecutors before the trial. His attorney said it was unjust for a young man who had been so cooperative.

"He was taken advantage of unfairly by the system, and we will appeal," Tesche said. "What kind of message does this send to people about telling the truth?"

Nunes' supporters have created Florida Families for Fair Sentences. It is advocating bills that already had been introduced in both chambers of the state Legislature that would make parole an option for children 15 and under who are charged as adults and sentenced to life in prison. It hopes to get that age limit increased to 18.

Assistant State Attorney Jalal Harb said detectives never promised Nunes leniency.

"It's a legal sentence," Harb said. "He decided to play with the big boys, the bottom line is."

[Last modified March 7, 2007, 06:25:56]


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