South Florida

South Florida Middle School Killer Deserves Life in Prison: Victim Parents

The parents of a 14-year-old South Florida boy slain in 2004 in a middle school bathroom by his best friend urged a judge Wednesday to keep the convicted murderer locked away in prison for life.

Jaime Gough's parents, Jorge and Maria Gough, said in a letter to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger they believe Michael Hernandez remains a threat to society and that people would "be living in fear" if he is released. The letter was read at the opening of a three-day hearing on whether Hernandez, now 26, deserves a sentence other than life.

Other evidence indicated that Hernandez remains obsessed with serial killers, violent "death metal" music and genocidal historical figures such as Adolf Hitler.

"Michael committed an atrocious act of violence against our son. We've been devastated by the decision Michael made that day," Gough's parent's said in the letter. "He is also a threat to the community."

The new sentencing hearing was mandated after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that juveniles could not automatically be sentenced to life without chance of parole, as Florida law required when Hernandez was sent to prison. The decision was later made retroactive to older cases.

Gough, small for his age and bespectacled, was stabbed more than 40 times in the bathroom at Southwood Middle School by Hernandez, also 14 at the time, who then hid his knife in a backpack and went to class. At his 2008 trial, jurors rejected Hernadez's claim of insanity and convicted him of first-degree murder.

Trial testimony showed Hernandez kept a journal listing people he wanted to kill, including his own sister, and had been fascinated with other serial killers such as Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer, adding that he felt he was on a mission to "cleanse the planet" by killing.

Hernandez's father, Jesus Hernandez, said the family hopes to get Michael Hernandez better psychiatric help and a sentence that at least allows for a future chance at parole. On the witness stand Wednesday, Jesus Hernandez said he believes his son is in a much better mental state now.

"I think he needs help but prison is not the right place," Jesus Hernandez said.

Yet under questioning by Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine, Hernandez acknowledged that his son asked him to look up information about serial killers in telephone calls from jail. The father also said he played music clips over the phone for his son from "death metal" bands with lyrics filled with bloody, violent imagery.

"It doesn't concern you that your son is still fascinated by serial killers and music about Hitler?" Levine said.

"To me, they're just songs," Jesus Hernandez said.

Other witnesses testified Wednesday that Hernandez had been found with homemade knives, known as "shanks," on at least two occasions in his cell. There is no indication he ever used any of these weapons, however.

This is a developing story and will be updated as new information becomes available.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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