- By Jane Musgrave Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
In a decision that brought cries of anguish from members of two broken families, Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Karen Miller on Friday sentenced 21-year-old Tyrie Theophile to 45 years in prison for fatally shooting 17-year-old Jack Duchene in a marijuana deal gone bad.
To Renee Duchene, who said her once unbridled love of life ended when her gregarious son was killed in January 2012, the sentence was far too lenient.
“He should be doing a life sentence,” the Palm Springs woman said, choking back tears. “I believe in an eye for an eye.”
To members of Theophile’s family, the sentence was far too harsh.
“I have sympathy for the mother, but my son was not the killer,” said Jackie Hubbard, with tears streaming down her face outside the courtroom.
Then, in a testament to the emotional undercurrents that punctuated Theophile’s weeklong trial in December and resurfaced during this week’s two-day sentencing hearing, Theophile’s family members lashed out.
Yolanda Hubbard, who helped raise Theophile while her sister, Jackie, struggled to beat an addiction to crack cocaine, said the sentence was unjust. She said she expected it would be overturned on appeal.
She questioned why Zachary Wolfe, who was with Duchene and was shot but survived, wasn’t prosecuted in connection with the drug sale. “He’s been treated like a victim,” she said.
Then, with the reality of her nephew’s future sinking in, the Riviera Beach woman added, “At least we get to see Tyrie but they don’t get to see their son.”
As catcalls filled the corridor, Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies escorted Theophile’s family out of the courthouse while Duchene’s large extended family waited for deputies to take them to their cars.
Miller was aware that passions on both sides were running high. Before announcing her decision, she warned both families to keep their feelings in check.
Reading a statement she prepared after hearing heartfelt pleas from both families on Thursday, she acknowledged that Theophile didn’t kill Duchene or injure Wolfe. The fatal shots were fired by one of two still unidentified men who helped ambush the two who came to a house near 45th Street in West Palm Beach to sell $800 worth of pot.
But, Miller said, Theophile set up the drug buy, greeted the two at the house, led the two other men to Duchene’s truck and realized a robbery was planned. “He was intimately involved in the criminal acts that led to the death of Jake Duchene and injury of Zachary Wolfe,” Miller said.
While she acknowledged that a jury found Theophile guilty of second-degree, not first-degree, murder, she rejected defense attorney David McPherrin’s request for a 15-year sentence. The jury also found Theophile guilty of aggravated battery in connection with Wolfe’s injuries and robbery.
While Theophile was only 16 at the time and a psychologist testified that as a “crack baby” he had a low I.Q., Miller said she found no evidence he was incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions.
While his mother struggled with addiction and his father died when he was in middle school, Theophile had a loving family who raised him, she said. He played football at Palm Beach Gardens High School, although he didn’t graduate.
Miller had to make special findings to hand Theophile a lengthy sentence because of U.S. Supreme Court ruling that outlawed life-without-parole sentences for juveniles. Because their brains aren’t fully developed, the high court ruled that juveniles are impetuous and amendable to rehabilitation so must be given special consideration when sentences are meted out.
Under a law the Florida Legislature passed in response to the ruling, Theophile will have his sentence reviewed in 15 years, said Assistant State Attorney Jill Richstone, who prosecuted the case with Reid Scott. He will also be given credit for the roughly 4 1/2 years he has already spent in the Palm Beach County jail.
Surrounded by family and friends, Renee Duchene said her son wasn’t a drug dealer. He and Wolfe agreed to peddle the marijuana as a favor to another friend.
“We should never be here,” she said, as family members enveloped her to take her from the courthouse for what they hoped would be the last time.