Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Mark Thornton

A man who killed a high school junior with one punch to the head begged forgiveness Wednesday before a judge sentenced him to 15 years in prison.

Omar Witt, 21, said he never intended to kill Mark Thornton a year ago during a dispute in the parking lot of University High School, east of Orlando.

`If I had 10 seconds of my life back I would do something different,'' Witt told Chief Judge Ted Coleman, adding that he suffers nightmares about the ordeal. ``I'm not someone who goes around hurting people.

``I don't want to go on with my life knowing someone hates me,'' Witt said to Mark's mother. ``I ask, I beg you, please, please forgive me.''

But Witt's words fell on unsympathetic ears.

``I hope my son haunts him for the rest of his life,'' she said after the sentencing.

Witt, 16-year-old Mark and other students got into an argument on Dec. 9, 1998, that turned physical when Witt threw the first punch. Witt, a construction worker, said he was at the school to catch a ride home.

Defense lawyer Barry Apfelbaum argued that his black client became enraged after hearing Mark yell a racial slur.

But witnesses said someone else - not Mark - yelled the slur. They said Mark had tried to walk away from Witt before being hit.

Prosecutor Dorothy Sedgwick said Witt was at the school seven hours after another friend offered money to anyone who would beat up Mark.

The teenager had made enemies when he broke up a fight a few weeks earlier between two girls, she said.

She also said Witt's claim about not hurting people isn't backed up by his criminal record, which includes a prior battery charge and weapons offenses.

``Society has an obligation to protect students on school campuses,'' she told Coleman when asking for the maximum sentence.

Jurors in October refused to convict Witt of first-degree murder, which would have brought a mandatory life prison term. Instead, Witt was found guilty of aggravated child abuse.

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