To avoid death penalty, Florida cop killer will claim brain damage

Marco Antonio Parilla Jr., center, is escorted into the Pinellas County jail after being arrested in 2014 for the murder of Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek. Parilla pleaded guilty to the murder, and this week a jury who will decide whether to sentence him to death or life in prison for that crime. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

The man who killed Tarpon Springs police Officer Charles Kondek in 2014 suffered from head trauma that likely impaired his judgment at the time of the shooting, according to his attorneys.

That diagnosis is how the defense hopes to convince a jury to spare Marco Antonio Parilla, Jr. from being sentenced to death.

Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand told the Tampa Bay Times his client has “brain abnormalities” that can affect decision-making.

Parilla underwent two brain imaging scans that will be discussed by experts during his two-week sentencing set to begin Tuesday with jury selection.

“The doctors will be better able to elaborate on that,” he said.

Parilla, 27, pleaded guilty in October to fatally shooting Kondek on Dec. 21, 2014 with a stolen gun. Kondek, a 17-year veteran, was responding to a noise complaint at the Glen’s Eureka apartments at 199 Grand Blvd., just south of the Sponge Docks.

That puts Parilla’s fate in the hands of a 12-member jury that will decide if he should spend his life in prison or be condemned to death row.

TAMPA BAY TIMES SPECIAL REPORT Unlocked and Loaded: At least 82,000 stolen guns are missing in Florida.

In Florida, juries presiding over capital cases are asked to weigh aggravating and mitigating factors when deciding whether to sentence a defendant to death.

Prosecutors, led by Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, will argue that the jury should sentence Parilla to death by presenting these aggravating factors:

• Parilla was on felony probation after serving a 3-year sentence for an array of charges that included selling cocaine and marijuana, trafficking in stolen property and leaving the scene of a crash involving an injury. He was released from prison in March 2014, nine months before the officer’s murder.

• Kondek was a law enforcement officer engaged in the performance of his official duties when he was killed.

• Parilla shot Kondek because he was trying to avoid arrest. He later told detectives he didn’t want to go back to prison.

Bartlett said the state is ready to move forward with sentencing. It has been delayed twice since Parilla’s guilty plea five months ago.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Killer of Tarpon Springs police officer pleads guilty.

“The state’s cases don’t get better like wine and cheese,” he said. “Your case over time deteriorates because people’s memories are not as good.

“It doesn’t do us any good to put the case off any longer. We want to get it over with.”

Brunvand and his co-counsel Amanda Powers Sellers will present these mitigating factors to convince the jury to spare the life of their client, a father of two young boys.

“Marco Parilla, despite everything, is a young man who’s had a very difficult life,” Brunvand said.

Much of their case will center around Parilla’s troubled childhood that included long stretches of homelessness and physical abuse.

Key testimony will be provided by doctors who will discuss how head trauma and drug use “may very well have contributed to brain damage,” Brunvand said.

Before dawn on Dec. 21, 2014, Parilla was at a party in Holiday when he and a friend drove down to Tarpon Springs in a white Hyundai Elantra.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Former roommate of Tarpon Springs cop killer speaks.

Parilla went to the Glen’s Eureka apartments to find his former roommate, Jareem Roach, because he believed Roach snitched on him about his drug use, leading to an arrest warrant for violating his probation.

Music blared from the car stereo while Parilla banged on doors and waved a gun that was stolen from an unlocked car in Jacksonville. Just after 2 a.m., dispatchers received a noise complaint at the apartments. Kondek volunteered to go alone while other officers were tied up with a bar fight.

Parilla was walking back to the Hyundai when he saw Kondek. He fired at the officer seven times, striking him once above his bullet-resistant vest.

Then Parilla fled in the Hyundai, running over Kondek as he lay in the street. Half a mile north at Athens and Cross streets, Parilla slammed into a power pole and ran out of the car. Officers found him under a nearby staircase.

Kondek was rushed to Florida Hospital North Pinellas. He died at 3:02 a.m. The 45-year-old officer was a father of six.

THE FUNERAL: Slain Tarpon Springs Officer Charles Kondek remembered for humor, dedication, love (w/video)

He was the first Tarpon Springs officer to be shot and killed in the line of duty since 1926. The last city officer to die while on duty was killed in a 1969 car crash.

This is the first murder of a law enforcement officer to be decided by a Pinellas jury in six years.

On Feb. 21, 2011, St. Petersburg police Officer David Crawford was fatally shot by 16-year-old Nicholas Lindsey while responding to a report about a possible car break-in.

A jury convicted Lindsey of first-degree murder in 2012. He is now 23 and serving a life sentence at Century Correctional Institution.

Contact Laura C. Morel at Follow @lauracmorel.

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