Cecilia Stafford stood in a Miami-Dade courtroom this afternoon and stared at Merrit Sims, the man who twenty years ago shot and killed her husband, Miami Springs officer Charles Stafford. "On behalf of my family, my children and myself, may you rot in hell," Stafford said.
Sims listened stoically and then accepted a plea deal that will keep him in jail for the next 25 years. Sims had spent 13 years on death row for Stafford's murder, but his original conviction was tossed in 2007 because his attorney failed to object to key testimony.
Noting that Sims new plea will keep him in prison until he is 70 years old, Assistant State Attorney Abbe Rifkin said it was best for Stafford's family to avoid a retrial.
"This was honestly the best resolution for everyone involved," she says.
"It was a bittersweet day," Cecilia Stafford added. "I'm very happy my family wasn't dragged into another trial. But there is no forgiveness for what he did."
Sims shot Stafford twice in June 1991 after the officer pulled him over. Sims was driving his cousin's car, which he didn't know his cousin had earlier reported stolen. When Stafford tried to arrest Sims, a scuffle broke out and Sims grabbed the officer's gun and killed him.
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Sims was later arrested in California and claimed during his trial that the shooting was self-defense. A jury convicted him, though, and he was sentenced to death in 1994.
With the help of New York attorney P. Benjamin Duke, Sims' conviction was reversed by the Florida Supreme Court in 2007 because his defense attorney, Clinton Pitts, had failed to object to testimony from a K9 officer that Sims may have had drugs in the car.