Convicted child killer apologizes, claims better mind state

AP News
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Posted: Feb 04, 2016 1:40 PM

MIAMI (AP) — Convicted child killer Michael Hernandez apologized Thursday for fatally stabbing his middle school friend in 2004 and claimed he has gained control over the twisted thoughts about violence and serial killers that led him to commit the crime.

But a prosecutor accused Hernandez of expressing false remorse and improved mental health only in hopes of gaining a reduction in his life prison sentence, even to the point of faking tears.

"As you sit here today, you cry on cue. That's what you do," Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine said mockingly.

"No ma'am," Hernandez replied.

Hernandez, now 26, was convicted of first-degree murder in 2008 for the slaying four years earlier of 14-year-old Jaime Gough in a bathroom at Southwood Middle School. Hernandez, also 14 at the time, unsuccessfully used the insanity defense at trial.

The new hearing was ordered after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that juveniles could not automatically be sentenced to life without chance of parole, even those convicted of murder. Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Schlesinger could keep the life sentence for Hernandez or allow him to be eligible for parole in about 13 years.

On the stand Thursday for the first time in any court, Hernandez told members of Gough's family he didn't realize the repercussions of his actions when he stabbed his friend more than 40 times after weeks of careful planning.

"I'm sorry for what I did to him. I want to apologize," he said. "I feel horrible about what I did."

Hernandez also said after several years behind bars, he began to understand that his earlier thoughts about killings and death were wrong and not based in reality. He said he has gained renewed purpose as a prison law clerk and has come to terms with the idea that he is different from others.

"I tried to figure out, what can I do to keep myself grounded?" he said. As a teenager, he added, "I didn't question my thoughts — is this good, is this bad, does it make sense? I feel I have gained control."

Levine, however, said recorded telephone calls from jail with a female pen pal reveal that Hernandez still obsesses over violence and serial killers. In one call, she said, he talks of his inability to cry and suggests he might have to stab himself in order to summon sympathetic tears.

"You feel sorry about Jaime Gough?" she asked.

"I do," Hernandez replied.

"Oh, you do today. Today is your show," the prosecutor responded. "You didn't think I'd be listening. But I have all the time in the world for you, Michael."

Hernandez repeatedly told Levine that his recorded comments about violence, in praise of Adolf Hitler and about racism were "a stupid thing to say" and that he didn't really mean any of it. He also said it's wrong to conclude that his enjoyment of "death metal" music indicates he still obsesses over killing.

"It's not sad to you — it's your passion," Levine said.

The testimony, much of it involving mental health experts, was scheduled to continue Friday. It was not clear when the judge would issue a ruling.

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Follow Curt Anderson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Miamicurt