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In pain of justice, mourners find slow healing

At a hearing for the suspect in a hotel shooting, witnesses and victims' relatives draw strength from each other and the judicial process.

By GRAHAM BRINK

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 30, 2000


TAMPA -- Tracy Perkins felt compelled to attend the hearing of the man accused of killing her friend and shooting her mother in a Dec. 30 rampage that left five people dead.

Maybe his eyes would reveal a reason why her life seemed so out of control, she thought. Why she now needed therapists and psychiatrists, anti-depressants and sleeping pills to battle the ugly memories.

When the moment arrived Wednesday, the mere sight of Silvio Izquierdo-Leyva had Perkins on the verge of a breakdown. A swell of hatred and sadness pushed forth a stream of tears. Shaking, she stared at Izquierdo through blazing eyes as her memory reeled back to the moment she saw Eric Pedroso shot dead right next to her.

"It's just bad for me. I just can't get past it," she said. "I'm stuck on that day."

She wasn't alone. Victims' relatives, witnesses and at least one woman shot in the rampage filled several rows of the packed courtroom as Izquierdo attended what will likely be a long procession of hearings.

The group, many of them strangers before the shootings, hugged and consoled one another when the two-minute hearing ended. A few exchanged phone numbers and said to "call any time."

Some came to support the prosecutors, who they hope win a death sentence. Others, like Perkins, "simply couldn't stay away." Coming to the hearings will be part of the grieving process, they said. One way of slowly moving the nightmare into the past.

"We'll never forget the pain that he caused," said Winnie Stephens, whose fiance, George Jones, was killed that day. "Watching the (legal) process helps us deal with that hurt. One day I hope it won't be so all-consuming."

Izquierdo, a 36-year-old Cuban refugee, is accused of killing four co-workers and injuring three others at the Radisson Bay Harbor Hotel on the Courtney Campbell Parkway before fleeing in a stolen car. He abandoned the car in West Tampa, where he killed a motorist who refused to give up her car, police said. He stole another car and was captured minutes later at MacDill Avenue and Spruce Street near MacFarlane Park, 3 miles from the Radisson.

Besides the five murder charges, he faces multiple counts of attempted murder with a firearm, aggravated assault with a firearm, carjacking with a firearm and attempted carjacking. He is being held at the Hillsborough County jail without bail.

Tracy Perkins' mother, Jerline Dobson, a hotel employee, spent several days at Tampa General Hospital after being shot in the abdomen. She feels fortunate to be alive, but her thoughts constantly return to that sunny afternoon when the shots rang out. Seeing Izquierdo in court made her realize how deeply her memories are etched. "He had that same fixed expression today as he did then," she said. "Calm but attack-like. I'm not sure I'll ever forget that."

During the hearing, the judge set another hearing date for May 25. Through his attorneys, Izquierdo also agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial, a standard procedure in most murder cases. Hillsborough Circuit Judge Robert Simms speculated about a possible July trial date, but many capital murder cases take a year or longer to get to trial.

No matter how long it takes, Elisa Leal vowed to come to every hearing possible. Leal, whose sister-in-law Delores Perdomo was killed that day, said the survivors and their families plan to stick together.

"We want everyone to know that the victims had family, that what happened had a big impact," she said. "And we want him to know that what he did hurt us all."

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