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Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Soldier. USF student. Now, an inmate. Man who accidentally killed friend gets 15 years

11-6-2007 Florida

BRADENTON -- Never in her life did Maria Ruiz think that her brother would be here, shackled in a courtroom, a killer facing a possible 30-year prison sentence.

Not Jesus Ledezma, the student who made A's and B's at the University of South Florida. Not the former soldier moved by young children he met during a peacekeeping mission to Bosnia. Not the loving son who bought extra presents for neighbors on Christmas.

"We called him the miracle child," Ruiz said.

Yet here Ledezma was on Monday morning, handcuffed and crying before a judge who sentenced him to 15 years in state prison for shooting a friend in the head, killing him.

Ledezma, 31, argued with his sister's boyfriend in a car outside their home on Seventh Avenue East last November. Prosecutors say Ledezma wanted to kill himself, but pulled a .45-caliber pistol and accidentally shot Jose Delval. Ledezma called 911 that night and told a dispatcher the shooting was an accident, his attorney said.

Ledezma and Jose Delval were friends, and spent the evening drinking together. Authorities say they argued about Ledezma's sister, who began dating Delval -- a sex offender who spent seven years in prison -- after he was released in 2003.

Prosecutors initially sought a second-degree murder conviction and a 20-year sentence; a jury convicted him last month of manslaughter.

Circuit Judge Diana Moreland may have been swayed by family members who talked about Ledezma's work on a finance degree at the USF campus in Sarasota, and his sparkling record of military service.

A psychologist who examined Ledezma in jail also said he suffered from a thyroid condition, and a prescription medication likely caused him to struggle with bouts of depression.

A former Army soldier, Ledezma bounced between jobs in Manatee County and seemed to worry about his future, according to his mother.

A former employer said Ledezma was a conscientious worker. "He was always very respectful, very considerate," said Mike Stewart, of Douglas-Knight and Associates, a collections agency where Ledezma once worked.

Moreland cut the sentence down to 15 years and included an additional 15 years of probation.

Once he is released, Ledezma must also complete 100 hours of community service by giving talks about the dangers of gun violence.

While his family was relieved that the sentence was not 30 years, Ledezma understood that his fall -- from top student to state inmate -- was remarkably fast.

"I wish I could go back in time," Ledezma said, "and take it back. I don't know what to say for myself." ..more.. by ANTHONY CORMIER

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