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Life sentence no death penalty for defendant

Posted on June 22, 2011 3:00 AM EST

On September 30, 2010, a jury returned a guilty verdict in the trial of Coconut Grove resident Brandon Antron Rolle for the July 2006 first degree murder and robbery with a firearm of a lost Illinois tourist. The defendant remained in custody since he turned himself in on August 4, 2006. The Miami criminal defense lawyers representing the defendant were unable to secure an acquittal for the client. The sentencing phase was a little more successful, but in the end, the same jury voted 8 - 4 in a non-binding recommendation that the defendant be executed for his crimes. In accordance with state law, however, the task of making the final determination fell to Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Dennis Murphy. Generally, judges follow the penalty recommendation of the jury, and, at least according to local press reports, it was widely expected that this judge would decide in favor of the death penalty for Rolle. Unlike other felony cases, capital murder cases have two phases. The first phase determines the guilt or innocence of a defendant while the second phase will determine the punishment.

To the surprise of many, the judge's decision, issued on June 15, rejected the jury's death penalty recommendation and instead sentenced the defendant to life in prison for his role in Gentile's murder. The judge stated that this murder, while clearly a tragedy, fell short of being so heinous as to merit capital punishment, "only the worst of the worst are to be sentenced to death." The victim, a furniture salesman from Homewood, Illinois, had been visiting the Miami area to celebrate his son's 17th birthday. He had dropped off his son at the teen's place of employment at a local mall, and had planned to join him for a movie later that day. Driving a rental car in the unfamiliar city, Gentile got lost in Coconut Grove. The 54-year-old tourist stopped to ask 26-year-old Rolle for directions. Rolle, who had been out of prison only 17 days for another crime, shot and killed the tourist, and stole Gentile's wallet, a diamond ring, a gold bracelet, and a necklace in what Miami defense attorneys later characterized as a robbery gone terribly wrong. Gentile managed to exit the car and walk a short distance before he collapsed. He was pronounced dead en route to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Police investigators found Rolle's fingerprint on the rented Chevrolet Cobalt's driver-side door, and an eyewitness, a Liberty City convenience store clerk, testified that Rolle attempted to sell him some of Gentile's property. Rolle's then girlfriend also testified that Rolle used Gentile's mobile phone, and had her pawn some items of jewelry he had taken from Gentile. The girlfriend also provided police a picture Rollo took of himself in a nightclub with his finger making a gun-like gesture while he wore a bracelet later identified as having belonged to Gentile. Prosecutors argued to the court that Rolle deserved the maximum sentence. Rolle already had been in prison on three separate occasions and had squandered the opportunities given him to straighten out his life and amend his criminal behavior.

As noted above, Rolle's defense team rejected the prosecutor's argument, and the jury's recommendation for the death penalty, stating that execution was too severe a punishment for what amounted to a robbery that went fatally sour. The judge sided with the defense. After the judge issued his decision to impose a life sentence rather than the death penalty, Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle told the press that, "We respect the role of the court, which has the ability to override the jury recommendation. We did our job. He did his."

Miami Man Gets Life, Instead of Death Penalty, for Grove Tourist Murder, Miami Herald.com, June 15, 2011.
Categories: Sentencing