MIAMI -- After two decades of agonizing court hearings and dashed expectations of justice, widow Cecilia Stafford stood Friday in front of a judge, politely thanked prosecutors and police, turned to her husband’s killer, and said her piece:
“May you rot in hell,” she growled.
With that, Miami-Dade Circuit Judge John Thornton declared Merrit Alonzo Sims guilty of the 1991 slaying of Cecilia’s husband, Miami Springs police officer Charles Stafford. This time, his second go-round, Sims was convicted not by a jury but through his guilty plea to second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer.
Sims’ 1994 trial on first-degree murder and armed robbery charges ended with his conviction, for which he was sentenced to death. With his plea, Sims, 45, was sentenced to serve the next 25 years in prison, keeping him behind bars until 70 when he’ll face two more years of house arrest.
The bespectacled defendant chose to not to address the judge or Stafford’s widow.
Afterward, Cecilia, a Florida probation officer, exchanged teary hugs with prosecutor Abbe Rifkin, retired Miami-Dade police Detective Pat Diaz and Miami Springs police Capt. Jon Kahn.
The plea deal was bittersweet, removing the death penalty from the equation but sparing the slain officers’ daughters from experiencing another emotionally taxing trial, Cecilia Stafford said.