LARGO — By the time Marco Antonio Parilla Jr. was 10, he was living in a homeless shelter in Tampa with his mother and younger sister. Mom was trying to get the kids away from their alcoholic father.
His mother, Severita Melendez, told the court Friday that she tried her best to raise the kids on her own. Sometimes, her patience wore thin.
"I couldn’t find a way to speak with words," she said. "It was only with whatever I had in my hand."
That’s why the mother said she disciplined Parilla with belts or sandals — even dumping ice water on him.
Melendez chronicled that turbulent childhood to the 12 jurors who will decide her son’s fate: Parilla, 27, faces a sentence of life or death for killing Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek on Dec. 21, 2014.
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Parilla pleaded guilty Oct. 12 to first-degree murder. Now a jury must decide if he should be sentenced to life in prison or the death penalty.
Prosecutors spent two days convincing the jury that Parilla should be put to death for his crime. The state rested Friday. Now it’s the defense’s turn to convince the jury to spare his life.
"My son is not an animal. He came out of my womb," Melendez said through tears on the stand. "I love him very much."
Earlier Friday, retired Pinellas sheriff’s Detective Keith Johnson testified for the state about detectives’ interview with Parilla several hours after his arrest.
Parilla declined to say much at the beginning, telling the detectives he was drunk, or had a panic attack, and couldn’t remember anything that happened on Dec. 21, the night of the shooting. But he did explain why he returned to his old Tarpon Springs apartment that night.
"He went there because he found out someone had called his probation officer and they had a warrant for them," Johnson said. "He was determined to find out who called the police and why."
Parilla thought the snitch was his former roommate, Jareem Roach.
At first, Parilla denied having a gun, the detective testified, but later admitted he carried one every day for protection.
"I asked him if he hit anything while leaving the scene, and his response was ‘I didn’t hit nobody," Johnson said. "He indicated he was surprised when I told him I thought he hit the officer."
Earlier this week, witnesses testified that an irate Parilla was banging on doors with a gun, his car stereo blaring as his friend Evelyn Desiree Santiago sat in the car. Kondek was sent to investigate a noise complaint.
Parilla drew a stolen .40-caliber Glock pistol and fired seven shots at the officer, striking him once above his bullet-resistant vest, then drove off.
During cross examination, defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand noted that Parilla didn’t know Kondek had died until detectives told him.
"He never asked us about the officer or his condition," Johnson said. "He asked us about how (Santiago) was, but that was the first he showed any feeling about the officer."
Brunvand then read from a transcript of Parilla’s interview:
"I didn’t mean to shoot that man ... This makes me regret my life. Y’all fixing to just kill me."
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The state also read the earlier testimony of Parilla’s former probation officer, Bridget Atkins, who could not be in court.
She described Parilla as respectful and cooperative at the start of his probation term. He told her about how he wanted to spend more time with his family and find better work.
Under the terms of his probation, he was to report to her once a month, and would need to request her permission to change address, jobs or leave the county. He found work washing dishes at Hella’s Bakery.
But on Oct. 2, 2014, Atkins started looking into a possible violation of probation after receiving an e-mail from Hillsborough Circuit Judge Daniel Perry that someone had said in his court that he was buying cocaine from Parilla.
"I tried to get a hold of Parilla to report immediately to my office," Atkins said in the transcript. "He said he was having trouble getting there."
She told him he had half an hour to arrive. He said he was on his way. When he didn’t arrive an hour later, she called his employer at Hella’s and was told he no longer worked there.
Atkins kept trying to get in touch with Parilla, but couldn’t reach him.
Parilla pleaded guilty to first-degree murder on Oct. 12, setting the stage for this week’s sentencing hearing. It will continue next week, when the defense will present medical experts who will say Parilla sustained head trauma earlier in his life that may have impaired his judgment.
He underwent two brain imaging scans that will also be discussed by the doctors. The state plans to challenge that diagnosis with its own experts. Court will resume Tuesday.
Contact Laura C. Morel firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @lauracmorel.
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