BRADENTON -- After deliberating for five hours, a jury of six on Tuesday unanimously found Johnathon Holte guilty of second-degree murder with a firearm in the 2009 death of his 21-year-old girlfriend, Malenne Meranvil.
A large group of Meranvil's family held their emotions when the verdict was read shortly after 6 p.m. in Courtroom 5A of the Manatee Judicial Center, but many family members had tears streaming down their faces as they left the courtroom after the week-long trial.
"This was a brutal crime," said state prosecutor Garrett Franzen after the verdict. "In the middle of the night on May 22, 2009, Malenne was beaten around the head multiple times with a 25-pound rock."
A date for Holte's sentencing will be established Wednesday, Franzen said.
Holte, 30, who showed no reaction to the verdict, could receive anywhere from 30 years to life for a second-degree murder conviction, said Holte's defense attorney, Joe Campoli.
Campoli said there was a reason Holte's family was not in the courtroom when the verdict was read,.
"Jonathan asked his family not to come to the jury decision out of deference to the victim's family," he said.
Holte was arrested July 14 and charged with premeditated murder, which was later reduced to murder in the second degree with a firearm.
The arrest warrant details the events that investigators believed led up Meranvil's death.
Meranvil and Holte, who were in an 18-month relationship, had gotten into an argument sometime between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m. which ended with Meranvil locking Holte out of their apartment in the 2500 block of 55th Avenue East in Bradenton.
Holte said he punched the door before getting into an SUV to sleep until about 3 a.m. or 4 a.m.
Holte then said he went to his cousin's house in Palmetto where he went to sleep in a back shed. Sometime around noon, Holte said he arrived home and found the back door open and found Meranvil laying on the floor dead.
Franzen said the case was unique.
"There were no eye witnesses, and most of the blood and DNA did not point to any individual," Franzen said. "But the circumstantial evidence pointed directly at Mr. Holte."
Campoli said it was tough for a jury not to want to hold someone responsible for the gruesome circumstances of Meranvil's death, and Holte was sitting before them.
"There is one person charged with a crime, not five," Campoli said. "He's the one sitting there. There is a natural tendency to hold someone accountable and this was an exceptionally brutal death."
"I sure as hell thought there was reasonable doubt in this case, but we had a big mountain to climb, and we didn't climb it," Campoli added of the verdict.
Campoli said his client will appeal.
Holte has a criminal history that includes arrests for charges of battery, domestic battery, vehicle burglary, theft and dealing in stolen property.
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitternote>