When Anita Waring-Kennedy walked out of the St. Johns County courthouse on Thursday morning after watching the young man who shot and killed her son receive a 50-year prison sentence, she said she thought it might be a while before it sinks in that the legal process, set in motion by the murder, is finally over.
Seated in a small conference room at the 7th Circuit State Attorney’s Office, Waring-Kennedy wiped tears from her eyes as she considered that the crime had not only ended her son’s life, but essentially robbed the two young men responsible for the crime of any opportunity in their own.
“Their lives are over, too,” she said. “There is nothing to be happy about that.”
Circuit Judge Howard Maltz had just sentenced Kevin Trevon Williams after the 20-year-old pleaded no contest to first-degree murder in the shooting death of 36-year-old Carl Starke — a crime he committed when he was 17.
“I never hated them,” Waring-Kennedy said of Williams and a co-defendant who was sentenced last year. “I just felt sorry for them.”
That compassion has been a common theme in Waring-Kennedy’s life since Starke, who was autistic, was murdered in August 2015, in the parking lot of the Vista Coves condominiums where he lived with his mom. She said Thursday that she plans to continue looking for ways to keep her son’s friendly spirit alive.
Maltz also sentenced Williams to 15 years for an associated carjacking charge and 5 years for burglary of an unoccupied conveyance. Those sentences will run concurrently with the 50-year murder sentence which will be subject to review in 25 years because Williams was a juvenile when he killed Starke in the parking lot off Masters Drive
Authorities said Williams and a group of teenagers followed Starke there from Walmart on U.S. 1 where they had identified him as a possible easy target and planned to take his car.
The crime put Waring-Kennedy, and her daughter, Carli Durden, in the spotlight at various times as people reacted to the crime.
In December, during a sentencing hearing for Williams’ co-defendant, 17-year-old Christopher Koran O’Neal, Durden spoke of how friendly and loving her brother was.
“I want you to listen to what I have to say,” she said to the teen, “because this is what my brother would have said to you Mr. O’Neal: ‘I forgive you.’”
Durden expressed bewilderment as to what might have gone on in O’Neal’s life that led him to participate in the shooting of her brother who she said always smiled, worked a good job and was full of compassion.
“He would have been your friend,” she said. “Actually, he would have loved to have been your friend.”
O’Neal, who had previously entered an open plea of guilty to a first-degree felony murder charge received a prison sentence 0f 37 1/2 years.
As Waring-Kennedy left the courtroom that day she stopped and embraced O’Neal’s mother.
She said on Thursday that she always believed O’Neal, who had a troubled childhood, had remorse for his role in the crime, and that his mother did, too.
“She kept telling me how sorry she was,” she said. “She had compassion for me, and I had it for her, as well.”
Just a couple of months before O’Neal’s sentencing, Waring-Kennedy and Durden both agreed to interviews with The Record after Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation into law to honor Starke.
Dubbed “Carl’s Law,” the bill, which was shepherded through the state Legislature by Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, allows for the “reclassification of offenses committed while evidencing prejudice based on a mental or physical disability of the victim.” (The legislation did not significantly change Florida statute, but pulled out an existing law and named it in Starke’s honor.)
Waring-Kennedy said Thursday she was OK with Williams’ plea arrangement and the 50-year sentence (he was facing a possible life sentence) because it spared her the ordeal of a trial in which she would have likely had to testify as well as hear and view painful testimony and evidence.
Now that the criminal proceedings are behind her, she said she is considering starting a foundation to help troubled youth, like Williams and O’Neal, before they turn to crime and end up in prison and ruin their lives.
That, she said, would not only prevent more lives from being ruined, but also be a fitting way to honor her son.
“I am never going to stop doing stuff in his name,” she said. “He was a good guy.”