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    Boy gets life, no parole, for strangling playmate

    John Silva, 15, hid the body of the 12-year-old in a septic tank. A judge will recommend a juvenile prison.

    ©Associated Press

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 16, 2001


    PALATKA -- A 15-year-old boy was sentenced Thursday to life in prison without parole for strangling a younger playmate and dumping his body into a dry septic tank.

    John Silva, who showed no reaction to the sentence, was tried as an adult and convicted of first-degree murder. The body of his victim, 12-year-old Jerry Lee Alley Jr., was found hog-tied at the bottom of the tank last May.

    A note found with the body included the lines, "strip to underware," "tie up hands," "gag" and "cover eyes." Investigators said it was written by Silva, who was a neighbor and schoolmate of Alley in a rural neighborhood of Interlachen, about 15 miles west of Palatka in northeast Florida.

    "Jerry was a special boy," said his grandmother, Anne Alley. "Our lives have changed forever. If you kill somebody there is a consequence."

    Jerry Alley, whose parents were divorced, lived with his grandparents, who had adopted him.

    Assistant State Attorney Garry Wood said he thought Silva would kill again if he were freed from prison. "John Silva is getting what he deserved," he said after sentence was passed.

    Last week, a 14-year-old Miami boy, Lionel Tate, was ordered to serve the rest of his life in prison without parole for killing a 6-year-old girl his mother was babysitting. At his trial, defense attorneys argued that Tate accidentally killed Tiffany Eunick in July 1999 while imitating pro wrestling moves he had seen on television.

    Public backlash over that life sentence led to Tate's speedy transfer from an adult prison to a maximum-security juvenile facility north of Lake Okeechobee, and to pressure for Gov. Jeb Bush to consider commuting his sentence. Amnesty International voiced concern about the case.

    No such public campaign has come together over Silva's sentencing.

    Only Silva's mother, Cynthia Silva, has asked that her son be sent to a juvenile facility, and Circuit Judge A.W. Nichols agreed to ask the state to do that.

    "I still do not feel he did this crime," Silva said. "He is immature. He is book smart, but he is not street smart. He does not understand most of the process and what is going on."

    Nichols denied motions for a new trial and for a judgment of acquittal. He also rejected Assistant Public Defender John Stephenson's argument that sentencing juveniles to life in prison without parole is unconstitutional.

    Alley's grandfather, Marvin Alley, has been hospitalized with post-traumatic stress syndrome and is still having trouble dealing with the slaying.

    "I've got such a hollow pit in my life," he said.

    The Alley and Silva families, who embraced after the verdict last month, were not as warm Thursday.

    "I have no animosity toward the Silva family," Anne Alley said. "Hatred and animosity are wasted emotions."

    Jurors in the trials of both Tate and Silva had the option of considering second-degree murder or manslaughter convictions.

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