Carlos DuPree, a St. Louis man who’d been in Palm Coast just 10 days the night he said he wanted to buy $400-worth of pot at a house on Prospect Lane, was sentenced to life in prison this afternoon at the end of a four-day trial on six charges, including armed robbery during a home-invasion in 2020.
Circuit Judge Terence Perkins had no discretion. DuPree had been imprisoned twice before, in 2019 and 2020, on state and federal charges in St. Louis. He qualified as a prison-release re-offender. Under Florida law, that aggravates whatever penalty he faced. Two of the six charges–the other was armed burglary with assault–carried a mandatory life term, making the remaining, lesser sentences all but irrelevant.
An all-white jury of four women and two men–DuPree is Black–deliberated just 50 minutes before rendering the guilty verdict on all counts. The 50 minutes included a third of that time back in the courtroom, where some of its members wanted to watch a surveillance video again. Under Florida law, lawyers may not tell the jury of the potential penalty their verdict carries. DuPree is 34.
The verdict was written on Assistant Public Defender Spencer O’Neal’s demeanor at the defendant’s table well before the clerk read it out loud to the courtroom, because there’d been a glitch. The jury had returned with one section of its form incomplete. The judge always reviews verdict forms before they are “published,” or read out by the clerk, and does so for that very reason: to ensure that the form has been filled out correctly. Perkins informed the lawyers in a sidebar, showed them the form, and instructed the jury to go back to its deliberation room and fix the missing part. It was an “interrogatory,” or a question, to which the jurors had to check a box, yes or no: was Dupree armed with a firearm at the time of the offense? He was. It was not a minor detail, but rather the difference between life in prison and less severe punishment. At that point, only the judge and the lawyers knew the verdict.
The jury went back to the deliberation room for a minute. O’Neal went back to his chair, defeat written in his slump. It’s not clear if he told DuPree just then.
DuPree did not react when the verdict was read. One of his five victims, the mother of several older children at the house when DuPree and his accomplices attacked it, did. She wept and sobbed quietly, comforted by a victim’s advocate on one side and a friend or relative, or perhaps one of her children, on the other.
The judge was going to defer sentencing to another day. DuPree asked that he be sentenced immediately.
Assistant State Attorney Melissa Clark, who prosecuted the case, and who rarely loses, called the woman, her tears barely dried, to the stand.
“I have a hard time at night, I don’t feel safe, I barely go outside, because I’m petrified. I see life through different lenses than I ever have before,” the woman told the judge. When she sees people wearing masks, as all four assailants that night did, she freaks.
“As a parent,” she continued, “I wasn’t able to protect my children at that time. But I feel like now I’m able to have a voice and I’m able to speak and I’m able to protect them. So that’s why I’ve been here and I’ve been going through all this, because now I can fight back. You know, I had that opportunity to fight when I didn’t, before. And I feel that they should get the maximum sentence that is allowed because I’m going to be doing a life sentence. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal from this and live in fear for the rest of my life because of what happened to me.”
She may have said “they,” rather than “he,” from remembering that night of Dec. 12, 2020, when four masked and hooded men–two of the four were in their mid-teens–at least three of them armed with guns, entered her home and proceeded to violently ransack the place, beat up and kicked some of its occupants, slamming a chair on one of them, striking another with a gun in the back of the head, holding the woman (who testified today) at gunpoint and making threats. They stole $1,500 and credit cards and fled. They were quickly apprehended by Flagler County Sheriff’s deputies after a chase, when their car crashed and they were sniffed out of woods by police dogs.
Korie Jones and Darius Watts were both 15 when they joined with DuPree to pull off the robbery. The fourth man was never caught. He remains at large. Jones and Watts pleaded out. Perkins sentenced them last July both to 15-year prison terms. Watts will also be on probation for eight years, Jones for 15. The difference: Watts did not brutalize anyone during the robbery, other than firing a round at the ceiling as he was leaving. They had also faced up to life in prison without a plea. (See: “Two Boys, 15 at Time of Brutal Armed Home Invasion in Palm Coast, Sentenced to 15 Years in Prison.”)
DuPree’s defense was that he never went into the house. He was in a car, on his phone. The whole thing was about getting $400-worth of pot. A man whom he could not identify, resembling his build, wearing the same camouflage pants and sneakers he wore, was the man with the gun captured by an interior surveillance video, which captured much of the attack.
“If you believe his testimony yesterday that he went to this house and he was sitting in a car, expecting to buy cannabis, and he’s playing on his phone, sent the young ones in and has no idea what’s happening in that house, and unbeknownst to him, this robbery takes place with four armed gunmen,” Clark told the jury in her closing arguments, “and they come flying back out, jump in the car and they go on a high speed chase–but he had nothing to do with any of this robbery: If you believe that, that’s an independent act. I would assert to you, that’s just not believable.”
Clark told jurors to consider the fact that DuPree is a six-time convicted felon as they weigh the truthfulness of his testimony. Adding to the evidence against him was the mask Clark said was worn by the same man in the video.
The defense doesn’t contest that DuPree had a mask, with the emblem of the Kansas City Chiefs. Its DNA linked it to DuPree. But his attorney argued that it wasn’t the same mask as the one in the black-and-white video, which didn’t render colors and showed various clothing items washed-out white, like the mask. The defense also didn’t contest that the man in the house wore cargo pants. But that the company that makes those pants, Argonaut Nations, manufactures rips into the pants identically. So another man was wearing the same kind of pants. So O’Neal repeated a mantra: “lack of evidence,” in hopes of building a case for reasonable doubt.
But in the end it came down to the sneakers. The prosecution showed the jury the sneakers DuPree had worn. During deliberations, at least two jurors were intent on examining the video of the robbery, asking the court to freeze-frame or play in slow motions two sequences when the man wearing similar sneakers was showing them. That sealed DuPree’s fate. The jury wasn’t back in its deliberation room 10 minutes before it announced it had a verdict.
DuPree was on federal probation on drug and gun charges in St. Louis at the time of his arrest in Palm Coast. His probation was not to expire until 2023. It is now moot. But the Prospect Lane robbery is not a closed case, since a man remains at large.