Ex-coach gets 20-year term
By DONG-PHUONG NGUYEN
© St. Petersburg Times,
TAMPA -- Eric Trigg, the former high school football coach convicted of killing his girlfriend's 2-year-old daughter by punching her in the stomach and throwing her out a window, was sentenced to the maximum 20 years in prison Friday.
Trigg, who spent most of his adult life mentoring children, is also prohibited from having unsupervised contact with youths under 15 once he is released.
About 30 friends and relatives sitting in the courtroom cried upon hearing Circuit Judge Chet Tharpe's decision. They believe April Casey's death two years ago was an accident.
On the other side of the courtroom sat April's father, Arthur Casey, who also sobbed. He found Tharpe's decision bittersweet.
"I'm satisfied with the judge's decision," said Casey, who was in prison at the time of his daughter's death. "My daughter is gone, but I feel justice has been served."
Trigg, who pleaded guilty to second-degree murder last month, expressed remorse in his pleas for leniency.
"I'm the one who saw the last gasp of breath of air out of her," Trigg told Tharpe before he was sentenced. "It hurts me even more that I can never tell her I'm sorry, except through the Lord."
Trigg, 34, reiterated his claim that April's death was an accident.
"I never said I never made a mistake," he said, his voice barely audible over his family's sniffles. "That day, I never intended to hurt anyone."
Trigg has maintained that he saw April hanging out of her mother's second-story apartment window in June 1999 and, in a moment of bad judgment, pushed her.
But prosecutors say Trigg punched April in the stomach with so much force that her liver nearly split in half, then tossed her out of the window to make it look as if she died from a fall.
Trigg's attorney, Ralph Fernandez, gathered an impressive list of family and friends who addressed Tharpe before Trigg's sentencing.
Former coaches, childhood friends and his mother talked about Trigg the friend, brother and son who devoted his life to youths. They described him as intelligent, inspirational and upstanding. Their accounts were so moving, "the furniture would have exercised leniency," Fernandez said.
"I just know my brother is a very loving and caring man," Charles Trigg told Tharpe. "In a perfect world, I hope, judge, you set him free, and he is left to deal with this on his own accord."
But Casey, in his cries for the maximum sentence, urged Tharpe to punish Trigg, saying his daughter's death was final.
"My daughter is not here to represent herself," he said. "She can't tell you the pain and suffering she went though before she died."
Tharpe, fiddling with something in his hands before imposing the sentence, choked up while reading Trigg's sentence.
"The only person who truly, truly knows what happened on that unfortunate date is Mr. Trigg himself," Tharpe said. "These cases don't ever come easy for me, but I have to do what I believe is the just and proper thing to do."
"I'm very disappointed," Fernandez said. "It's a difficult call. I'm not unhappy with Judge Tharpe. I'm unhappy with the result. This is a tragic, singular event. (Tharpe) decided to go on pure punishment."
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