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Family recalls troubled youth for teen killer, now 39, who seeks new sentence

TAMPA ó The bearded man with shackled hands sat weeping as he listened to witness after witness ó his mother, aunt and sister among them ó recount his childhood of poverty, abuse, and depression.

Kyle Moran leaned forward occasionally, stretching to wipe his face on the shoulder of his orange jail shirt.

He was a teenager the last time he found himself in this position ó sitting before a judge who held his fate in her hands.

This time, there was hope he could convince her he has changed since that day two decades ago when he and two teenage friends killed a Tampa man in a botched robbery.

Moran, 39, was in court Wednesday and Thursday for a resentencing hearing required by a series of U.S. and Florida Supreme Court decisions that found it unconstitutional for juveniles to receive life sentences.

Moranís two friends both did their time and have been released. One of them, Floyd LaFountain, had his life sentence lifted a year ago and has been free ever since.

But Moranís case is different. He held a .22-caliber rifle on June 7, 1994 and pulled the trigger, shooting 74-year-old Manuel Huerta between the eyes.

The victimís son heard all the details of Moranís childhood Wednesday as he sat in court. After the parade of defense witnesses, Bob Huerta took the stand himself.

"Iíve heard some people talk about things that could be very touching," Huerta said. "But I lost my father to that manís hand right there.

"Murder is murder. I want him to pay for it."

The witnesses for Moran described a lifetime of psychological damage for a boy who struggled to overcome loss and misfortune from the day he was born in Massachusetts.

His mother, Cheryl Bickford, testified that when she gave birth, doctors discovered a second gestational sac, indicating Moran may have had a twin that died in the womb. She also told of a seizure disorder and frequent severe fevers that caused her son to hallucinate.

His father abandoned the family when Moran was 18 months old. The male figures he knew growing up were his motherís boyfriends, who violently abused Moran and his younger sister.

Bickford, her voice thick through tears, described an incident where her partner held her at gunpoint and forced her to commit a sex act while her son watched. The boy was 5.

His mother struggled to provide for the children. Moran got his first job at 8, helping collect clay targets from a skeet shooting range. He used his own money to buy food, clothing and school supplies for himself and his sister. As a child, he began to use alcohol and drugs.

When he was 12, Moran was taken to a psychiatric hospital after expressing thoughts of suicide, according to court records and testimony. Doctors noted severe depression, insecurity, impulsivity and "homicidal ideation" toward his motherís boyfriend.

He was later sent to live with an aunt and uncle in Vermont, but his problems persisted. As a teen, he got caught with a gun at school and was placed on probation. Not long after, at 16, Moran ran away from home with LaFountain, also 16, and Michael Dupuis, 15.

They stole guns from a house in Vermont before heading to Florida.

After spending time in Tampa, they decided to return home, but needed a car and money. They targeted Huerta for a robbery.

When they stormed the manís home, he confronted them with a knife. Moran shot him.

LaFountain testified Wednesday that after the shooting, Moran said he wanted to shoot himself. Moran directed his friends to tell their lawyers that he had fired the weapon.

The pint-sized kids soon found themselves next to hardened criminals in state prisons.

On Thursday, Moran took the stand. When he first arrived in prison, he said, he looked so young that guards repeatedly thought he was a visitor who had ended up in the wrong place.

He accumulated 50 disciplinary violations. All but a handful were in his earliest years. Many, he said, he committed after he heard rumors that he was being targeted for robbery or rape by other inmates. After each, he would be sent to the safety of solitary confinement.

At age 23, while awaiting a court date, he tried to escape from the county jail by scaling a wall onto a roof.

"Iíd been locked up 10 years," he explained. "Iím a thousand miles from home. I have no friends, no family. ... It was just kind of hopeless."

His behavior improved over time. A neuropsychologist who examined him said he is amenable to rehabilitation and shows no signs of being a threat to himself or others. He received a high school diploma in prison and completed a number of self-improvement programs.

Colleen Kallas, who started writing letters to Moran eight years ago and to whom he is now engaged, said he would live with her family in Wisconsin if released. He has also been accepted in the transitional living program of Abe Brown Ministries in Tampa.

But the state wants Moran to stay in prison.

At the end of Thursdayís hearing, his defense attorney invited him to read a letter.

He had hoped Huertaís son could hear it, he said. But by then, the courtroom gallery was nearly empty. He read it anyway, speaking for three minutes, pausing to sob.

"When I came in here yesterday and I heard Mr. Huerta say all that stuff, I felt so bad," he said, his voice cracking. "It really broke my heart to hear him in pain. Thatís never what I intended. But itís what I did. ..."

"I hurt a lot of people. And Iím so sorry from the bottom of my heart. And I always will be for as long as I live."

Circuit Judge Kimberly Fernandez will issue a written order on Moranís new sentence by March 1.

Contact Dan Sullivan at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

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