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St. Pete man sentenced to death in convenience store killings

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Published:   |   Updated: August 23, 2013 at 06:10 PM

CLEARWATER — One portrait of Khadafy Mullens emerged from testimony given by his family and a forensic psychologist: that of a mentally disturbed, drug-addled, impulsive young man, one who was suffering from an extreme “emotional disturbance” when he killed two people and tried to kill a third during a 2008 convenience store robbery in St. Petersburg.

But the seven video surveillance cameras that captured the bone-chilling homicides at the Central Food Mart leave a different impression of the 29-year-old St. Petersburg man. On video, Mullens looks like a clear-thinking thief who would do what it took to make sure there were no witnesses.

Circuit Judge Philip Federico, who alone decided Mullens’ punishment, went with the surveillance cameras and on Friday announced two death sentences for Mullens.

“The Court finds that the defendant’s actions on Aug. 17, 2008, demonstrate that he was not so overcome by his ‘emotional disturbance’ that he could not act rationally,” Federico said, reading his 19-page sentencing order in court.

For one, Mullens removed what he erroneously believed was the sole surveillance system at the store, located at 2157 Central Ave. He killed store owner Mohammad Uddin as Uddin pleaded for his life. Then he killed a transient, Ronald Hayworth, who stumbled upon the robbery, as Hayworth pleaded for his life. Mullens was poised to leave when he grabbed a second customer coming through the door, Albert Barton.

The cylinder fell out of the revolver Mullens was using, but he had the presence of mind to put it back in before shooting Barton in the face.

“Such rational, thought-out actions belie the defendant’s claim that his mental illness and substance abuse caused him to act completely irrationally,” Federico wrote.

Federico sentenced Mullens to death for killing Uddin, imposed a second death sentence for Hayworth’s murder and sentenced him to life in prison for trying to kill Barton, who survived.

None of the victims’ family members was in court Friday.

“I’m sure it gives some closure to the families of Mr. Hayworth and Mr. Uddin,” said Assistant State Attorney Mark McGarry, one of the prosecutors involved in the case. “This closure will help them put this behind them.”

The assistant public defenders working on Mullens’ behalf were not so elated.

“We’re disappointed with the judge’s sentence, and we’ll be appealing it,” said Assistant Public Defender Jill Menadier.

Technically, Federico had to balance arguments for the death penalty, called aggravators, against arguments for a life sentence, called mitigators.

He found that the aggravating circumstances “far outweigh” the mitigating ones, his order said.

One consideration was that Mullens had been previously convicted of a felony involving the threat of violence.

In a case where there is more than one victim, as was the case at the food mart, state law allows a judge to consider one as an aggravator for the other, and that’s what Federico did.

Other aggravating circumstances were that the murders were committed during an armed robbery and that three victims were shot so they couldn’t identify Mullens as the robber.

Mullens’ defense attorneys, on the other hand, had argued he should receive a life sentence because he was under the influence of “an extreme mental or emotional disturbance” at the time of the slayings.

Forensic psychologist Scot Machlus had testified Mullens’ state of mind was brought about by a bipolar condition exacerbated by Mullens’ drug use.

Federico didn’t find Machlus’ diagnosis entirely convincing.

“The Court ... notes that Dr. Machlus was unable to directly link the defendant’s ‘mental or emotional disturbance’ to the defendant’s willful decision to commit murder and attempted murder,” Federico wrote.

Mullens’ defense attorneys also pointed out that Mullens had a horrific childhood that affected his ability to fully appreciate that what he was doing was criminal.

For one, his father, when he wasn’t in prison, beat Mullens and his siblings. His father also impoverished the family by using household funds to buy drugs, taught his son how to shoplift at the age of 5 and named him after Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi.

Federico’s sentence was unusual because it was made without a recommendation from a jury.

On April 29, Mullens pleaded guilty to all the charges he was facing — two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted first-degree murder — without anything promised in return, even though prosecutors were seeking the death penalty.

Typically, once a defendant facing a death sentence is convicted of first-degree murder in Florida a jury hears evidence before issuing a recommendation for or against the death penalty. They take a vote, and that vote is passed along to the presiding judge, who has to give it great weight before deciding whether the person should be executed or serve a life prison sentence.

That’s not what happened with Mullens, though.

At Mullens’ April 29 plea hearing, Menadier asked co if he would waive the death penalty phase of the case, where jurors hear testimony, and make the decision himself without a jury recommendation. Federico obliged, much to the disappointment of prosecutors, who wanted jurors to play a role, as they represent the community at large.

sthompson@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-6504

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