After more than six years, countless hearings and a week-long trial, Janice Coogle-Robertson arrived at the Palm Beach County Courthouse on Friday wearing a T-shirt that made it clear she wanted a long sentence for her son’s killer.
“Justice for Mike,” read the back of the T-shirt. On the front was a photo of the smiling face of her 16-year-old son, Michael, a Santaluces Community High School freshman who was gunned down in February 2012 by fellow classmate Frank Quarles in a dispute over a bike.
Calling the case “a horrific tragedy,” Circuit Judge Samantha Schosberg Feuer answered Coogle-Robertson’s call.
She sentenced Frank Quarles, who will turn 22 this week, to 35 years in prison and tacked on a requirement that he must serve the entire sentence before he is eligible for release.
While the term was less than the life sentence Coogle-Robertson and other family members sought, outside the courtroom she said she was satisfied. “It’s all right,” she said. “I’ll take it.”
Because Quarles was 15 when he shot Michael Coogle-Robertson in a park in the Seminole Manor neighborhood near Lantana, he will be eligible to have his sentence reviewed after 25 years. The Florida Legislature enacted the requirement in response to two landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that outlawed life sentences without parole for juveniles.
Justices ruled that because juveniles’ brains aren’t fully developed, they act impetuously, don’t fully understand the consequences of their actions and are amenable to rehabilitation. Therefore, they ruled, juveniles must be treated differently when sentences are meted out.
Feuer focused on those decisions as she read aloud her sentencing decision that came after she heard testimony during two hours-long hearings this year.
Noting that a psychologist testified that Quarles suffers from attention-deficit disorder and depression, she said he may not have fully understood the consequences of his actions when he stood before Michael and pulled the trigger of a gun twice. After falsely accusing Michael of stealing his bike, Quarles went home, grabbed the gun he kept hidden under his bed, returned to the park and fatally shot the teen.
While Quarles was undoubtedly “emotionally immature” and has expressed remorse, a jury in October convicted him of second-degree murder, Feuer said.
“The life of Michael Robertson was taken much too soon … at the tender of 16,” she said. To sentence Quarles to less than 25 years would “demean the seriousness of the crime of second-degree murder,” she said.
Quarles’ parents, sister and other supporters wept as Feuer announced her decision. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry,” Quarles called out as he was led from the courthouse in handcuffs.
Defense attorney Michael Salnick said he planned to appeal both the sentence and the conviction. He had asked for a mistrial during jury deliberations after the jury was accidentally allowed to listen to parts of Quarles’ interrogation by police that had been excluded from evidence.
Like Feuer, he said the case was tragic. “Two lives were lost,” he told Feuer at a hearing last month. “Because of this tragedy, nobody’s life will ever be the same again.”
He noted that having spent six years in prison, Quarles looks older and harder than he did when he was arrested at 15.
“He cried. He shivered. He said it was an accident,” Salnick said, recalling the first time he met Quarles at the juvenile detention center. “He had no intention to hurt Michael Robertson.”
Not surprisingly, Quarles has behaved like an adolescent while in the Palm Beach County Jail, Salnick said. He was convicted of indecent exposure for masturbating in front of a female guard and faces a battery charge in connection with a jail fight.
“I’m not sure it defines him as much as explains him,” Salnick said of Quarles’ behavior.
But Janice Coogle-Robertson countered that too much focus has been on Quarles. “If Mike had killed your son, it would have been a total different outcome,” she told Quarles’ parents at last month’s hearing. “Whatever you think about him he was mine. You have yours, I don’t have mine.”
“You can visit your son,” she said. “I have to go and visit my son in a graveyard.”