By Bill Cotterell
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A man convicted of killing a British tourist in a botched robbery that touched off an international furore 20 years ago had his life sentence formally reduced to 40 years on Friday.
Aundra Akins, now 34, could be out of prison in 12 years if he continues his clean disciplinary record behind bars.
Because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling which held that juveniles cannot be sentenced to "natural life" sentences, the Florida 1st District Court of Appeal ordered a new sentencing hearing for Akins, who was 14 at the time of the crime.
Akins, with an adult and two other youths, went out after midnight on September 14, 1993, looking for people to rob at a highway rest stop on Interstate 10 near Monticello, 25 miles east of the state capital, Tallahassee.
They found Gary Colley and his companion, Margaret Jagger, sleeping in their car and in the confusion of the robbery, Akins shot Colley in his head and grazed Jagger in the chest.
Jagger returned to Monticello for Friday's resentencing, noting that Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the assault.
"I personally think it's quite hard but, hopefully, Aundra has turned a corner and will be able to make some life, and will be able to come out in about 12 years with good behaviour," she said afterward. "So, hopefully, then he can keep out of trouble in prison and have another life ahead of him, after prison."
Circuit Judge Karen Gievers heard testimony from family members about Akins maturing in prison and getting his high school equivalency diploma, along with arguments against letting him out. She then imposed the 40-year sentence, retroactive to 2010.
The Monticello murder was the last in a series of tourist assaults and killings that damaged Florida's family tourism brand in the mid-1990s. Then-Governor Lawton Chiles ordered night-time security guards to be positioned at highway rest stops and rental car companies abandoned markings that were known to thieves preying on travellers.
The Florida legislature also enacted mandatory sentencing laws of 10 years to life for gun crimes and voters adopted a constitutional amendment requiring all inmates to serve 80 percent of their sentences before eligibility for early release.
(Editing by David Adams; Editing by Tim Dobbyn)