He was alone. No family, no friends, no character witnesses, not even a parent had turned up for Giuseppe Verdone’s sentencing to life in prison this afternoon in Flagler County Circuit Court.
Verdone, 24, will not see another day’s freedom. Circuit Judge J. David Walsh sentenced him to life without parole on two counts each, and to 30 years each on two other counts.
Verdone declined to address the court before sentence. Other than a steely look, he would show no emotions.
Often at such sentencings, the family of the convicted take advantage of the opportunity–a unique feature of American law, distinct from that of other countries with the exception of Australia–that allows direct pleas to the court to show at least some mercy, perhaps by allowing parole after so many years, or reducing the maximum number of years tacked on to the sentence. The victim or the family of the victim get the same opportunity to argue the other way, if they so wish–or to call for mercy, too. Sentencing hearings can turn into summary recreations of the trial, with the prosecution and defense restating their case to influence the judge’s decision.
Not in this case. The courtroom was almost empty except for reporters, staffers from the State Attorney’s office, who frequently turn up at sentencing hearings in case their office has won, and a couple of other people (among them a judge). When Verdone walked in, shackled hand and foot and wearing a red jail jumpsuit, he looked at the pews in the courtroom, perhaps scanning for the presence of anyone he might recognize. His family may have given up some time back: Verdone’s mother and two brothers live in Palm Coast’s B-Section. They had cooperated with police in the investigation, leading to Giuseppe’s arrest, as detailed in his arrest report. They had not attended his trial. They were not at his sentencing.
Such hearings can take a few hours, because of the list of witnesses who speak on behalf of the convicted. In this case, the hearing stretched on because Verdone’s attorney, public defender Reggina Nunnally, argued that some of the counts against him raised double jeopardy issue. The judge agreed in one case, dropping the lesser of five counts.
Nunnally also on June 26 filed a motion for a new trial, listing six reasons. Walsh denied all six. Nunnally had argued that “the weight of the evidence and credibility of the witness is inconsistent with the verdict.” Questioning his memory, Nunnally was referring to the victim of Verdone’s crime, Ming Gong, who only spoke Mandarin in court, and had his testimony translated by two interpreters. Walsh disagreed, saying the testimony was not in any way “manufactured.” Nunnally also raised issues about the validity of the interpreters, suggesting they were biased, and would “converse” during cross-examination. The judge did not buy the argument, noting that, if the interpreters were conversing with the witness, rather than translating, the defense should have raised the issue immediately. Nunnally also argued that the jury was prejudiced by incidents that took place in St. Johns County–even though they were related to the case at hand. The judge said the St. Johns events were “inextricably” linked to the case, and could therefore not be prejudicial to the jury.
That left formalities before the actual sentencing: the certification that Verdone’s fingerprints are, in fact, his own, and that he was a previously convicted felon (which plays into the increased severity of the sentence he faced today).
Verdone was convicted last month on five charges, including robbery with a firearm, kidnapping and aggravated battery and burglary with assault and battery. The kidnapping charge alone is a life felony, making the other charges’ outcome more technical, absent a decision by the judge to impose consecutive rather than concurrent sentences. Verdone had carjacked and brutalized Ming Gong, owner of a Chinese restaurant and one of its delivery drivers. Verdone had impersonated an officer to deceive Gong as part of an elaborate scheme to take his car and drive north with an underage girl. The prosecution asked for two life sentences and two 30-year sentences.
Just after 4 p.m., Walsh pronounced sentence, and imposed fines and fees of close to $1,000, though he reduced all fees and costs to civil judgments. Verdone has 30 days to appeal.
“His recklessness was indicative of a career criminal whose behavior was escalating more violently,” the prosecutor, Assistant State Attorney Christy Opsahl, said after the verdict.