On Thursday, a Pinellas County jury convicted Cordaro Hardin of first-degree murder in the 2007 shooting deaths of two St. Petersburg men. The penalty phase of the capital murder trial occurred on Friday. The jury declined to recommend that Hardin by sentenced to death, instead recommending the only other alternative sentence – life in prison.
Hardin himself communicated to the jury through the song he wrote. From the witness stand, Hardin sang, “God, I need a little assistance, will you be with me? By my side when I leave here, where do I go from here?”
Hardin was represented by Tampa Bay area capital murder defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand. At Friday’s hearing, Brunvand called the killings senseless but argued that Hardin should be spared from execution. Brunvand pointed out that Hardin had no previous criminal record and was only 18 at the time of the shootings. Hardin maintains his innocence.
Under Florida law, a jury’s determination as to the death penalty is only advisory. The court can choose to accept the jury’s recommendation of execution or not. The court cannot impose the death penalty if the jury has not recommended it.
In order to recommend the death penalty, a jury (and ultimately the court) must find that there were aggravating circumstances surrounding the crime which outweigh any potential mitigating circumstances. The aggravating and mitigating circumstances are outlined within the death penalty statute.
Aggravating circumstances include murder by someone with prior convictions of violent crimes; murder for monetary gain; murder while avoiding arrest or escaping custody; an especially heinous, atrocious or cruel murder; murder of a police officer or public official; murder of someone younger than 12 years old and other circumstances.
Mitigating circumstances include the fact that the defendant has no significant criminal history; the age of the defendant at the time of the crime and any other factors in the defendant’s background that would mitigate against imposition of the death penalty.
The jury here quite clearly felt that the mitigating factors relied upon by Brunvand in his closing argument outweighed any potential aggravating factors present in the case.