Attorneys for a Royal Palm Beach man who shot and killed his friend because he was fed up with years of the man’s threats and put-downs pleaded with a judge Monday to keep him out of prison.
Ronald Hight, who hung his head through most of his sentencing hearing, was set to receive his sentence Monday, a month after a jury convicted him of manslaughter in Craig Rivera’s January 2013 shooting death.
But because Hight’s attorneys wanted Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Glenn Kelley to review some more letters on Hight’s behalf along with a report outlining claims that Hight suffers from post traumatic stress syndrome, Kelley postponed the pronouncement of Hight’s sentence until Dec. 15.
Monday’s sentencing hearing came on Hight’s 28th birthday and nearly four years after the January 2013 shooting during what was supposed to be a gathering to belatedly celebrate Hight’s 24th birthday.
According to Hight’s arrest report, Hight and Rivera’s friendship was one marked by Rivera’s constant put-downs and belittlement of his younger friend. Rivera, 41, of Wellington, worked with Hight and according to witnesses had a habit of touching Hight inappropriately, joking that the two had a sexual relationship and making derogatory comments about him.
“What he told the investigators was that he was fed up,” Assistant State Attorney Lauren Godden said Monday.
Still, witnesses told police, Hight’s family had an “open door policy” at their Royal Palm Beach home for Rivera. Witnesses also said they never witnessed Rivera being physically violent with Hight and that the two had lunch together the afternoon before the shooting.
By that night, however, Hight told witnesses that he had “a bad feeling” about earlier threats from Rivera to beat him up.
So when Rivera confronted Hight and approached him after ridiculing him during a party at Hight’s family home, Hight took out his .40 caliber Glock and shot the Wellington man once in the head.
“He outweighed him by 100 pounds, he was standing in his face, it’s clear who the aggressor was here,” defense attorney Scott Berry told Kelley, reminding the judge of his arguments during trial that Hight acted in self-defense.
Godden and fellow prosecutor Aaron Papero asked Kelley to sentence Hight to 20 years in prison. Berry and attorneys Thomas Gano and Donnie Murrell asked Kelley to depart from the minimum 10-year recommended sentence, asking for county jail time and probation.
Berry cited Hight’s lack of a prior criminal record, and Rivera’s alleged role as the aggressor of the conflict. In Hight’s statement to detectives, played for jurors during his October trial, Berry characterized Hight as “crying, upset, and feeling for Mr. Rivera’s family.”
“Again, these are all signs of remorse for what happened here,” Berry said.
Stella and Patricia Rivera, Rivera’s 15-year-old twin daughters, told Kelley in a letter that the death of their father has shattered their family.
Because the girls’ mother is incarcerated, Rivera, who had himself been arrested six times since 1992, was a single father.
“My father can never be around ever, because of this man’s action,” Stella Rivera wrote in a letter Godden read aloud. “All my family wants is for this man to get what he deserves.”