Donna Horwitz gets 32 years for killing ex-husband as son looks on

Minutes after a Palm Beach County circuit judge on Thursday sentenced his 71-year-old mother to 32 years in prison for fatally shooting his father in a jealous rage, Radley Horwitz wondered aloud whether his six-year nightmare was over.

“I hate to think that every five years we’re going to be back here over and over again,” said the 43-year-old who played a crucial — and unenviable — role in the trials of his mother, Donna Horwitz. She was twice convicted of fatally shooting her 66-year-old ex-husband, Lanny, in their Jupiter home and has pledged to appeal once more.

To save herself, Donna Horwitz blamed the murder on Radley, her only child. During her initial trial in 2013 and a second one that was held in June after her first conviction was thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court, Radley testified against his mother.

He told both juries about the mayhem that erupted before dawn on Sept. 30, 2011 when he said he was jolted out of bed by his mother’s screaming to find his father’s naked, lifeless body lying in a pool of blood in a bathroom of the home the unconventional family shared in the exclusive Admiral’s Cove community.

“Everyone knows I didn’t do it. The gunshot residue test proved it,” Radley, who now lives in Costa Rica, said of the unsubstantiated charge that has hung over him. “I sleep as good as I can under the circumstances.”

Both juries agreed Donna Horwitz emptied two revolvers into her ex-husband as he showered, getting ready to take a trip with another woman. But they didn’t agree on what prompted the murder.

While the first jury convicted her of first-degree murder, finding that it was premeditated, the jury in June disagreed. It convicted her of second-degree murder although at least one juror said later he didn’t think she acted alone.

Saying she respected the jury system, Circuit Judge Krista Marx said she couldn’t again sentence Horwitz to life in prison since the jury had found her guilty of the lesser charge. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for me to ignore that,” she said.

Still, she said, the murder was inexplicable. “This was a dysfunctional family but there’s no explanation for why you took a gun and shot him so many times in the shower,” she told Horwitz, who looked wane and frail but showed no reaction to Marx’s pronouncement.

Lanny’s sister, Marcia VanCreveld, pushed for a life term for the woman she calls “Prima Donna.” Radley said the 32-year sentence, even with six years shaved off for the time she has already spent behind bars, was likely tantamount to life term given his mother’s age. Further, he said, he had no choice but to accept it.

“That’s just how it goes, you know,” he said. “It’s how the legal system works.”

Horwitz’s case ultimately established new rights for people accused of crimes. In tossing out her conviction, the state’s high court ruled that prosecutors violated Horwitz’s constitutional right to remain silent by telling jurors that she refused to talk to Jupiter police who were trying to determine who killed her ex-husband, a lawyer she married and divorced twice and who dabbled in various business ventures.

Her defense attorneys, Joseph Walsh and Grey Tesh, sought a 25-year sentence — the minimum allowed by law. Psychologist Michael Brannon testified that Horwitz is severely depressed and is a possible suicide risk. Her attorneys showed Marx three letters written by her friends, who described Horwitz as a doting daughter, mother and grandmother to Radley’s daughter.

Assistant State Attorney Aleathea McRoberts disputed that description, pointing out that Horwitz tried to pin the murder on her only child. “Remember that this woman deliberately took two firearms and shot this man in the shower,” she said. Then, she said, Horwitz hid one of the guns in a dresser in hopes evading detection.

“In six years there has been two jury trials where the community has spoken twice that this defendant shot her husband in cold blood,” McRoberts said, pushing for a life sentence.

Afterward, in answer to Radley’s fears that there could be yet a third trial, McRoberts voiced confidence that the conviction would stick. “I don’t see any reason to expect a reversal,” she said.

Already, Walsh and Tesh have tried to get Horwitz’s conviction thrown out due to claims by one juror that another member of the panel violated court rules by conducting independent research into the case during the trial. Marx rejected the allegations of jury misconduct. They will likely make additional claims in the looming appeal.

So, Radley said, he will wait. He said he broke off ties with his mother two years ago when she ridiculed him for seeking psychological help. He doesn’t anticipate a reunion.

“Even after six years, it’s still hard to get my head around,” he said.

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