Yoel Munoz was just thirteen years old when he would murder a homeless man. According to court documents Munoz would put on a mask before sneaking up to a sleeping homeless man and proceeded to stab him to death. Due to his age at the time this teen killer would plead guilty and be sentenced to just twenty five years in prison
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Yoel Munoz stood with hands in shackles, a faded yellow jumpsuit draped on his slender body, and when asked to repeat his date of birth, did so in a clear voice: April 3, 2001.
At 14 years old, Munoz is young, the first Lee County murder defendant to be born in the 21st century.
And yet, as he admitted Monday, Munoz is far from innocent. In August 2014, Munoz, then 13 years old, donned a mask and went to a Cape Coral homeless camp, where he stabbed 51-year-old Thomas Bergstrom more than a dozen times, leaving him there to die.
“It seemed like a long time,” Munoz said of the encounter. “But it was probably only like a minute.”
Seeking to balance Munoz’s youth with the severity of the crime, prosecutors and the Cape Coral teen reached a plea agreement Monday, resulting in a sentence of 25 years in prison followed by 15 years of probation. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors agreed to reduce a first-degree murder charge to second-degree murder.
Munoz is expected to spend the first few years of his sentence in a juvenile justice facility, with a transport to an adult prison after turning 18.
“He understands he made the worst decision of his short life on the night in question,” Munoz’s lawyer, Ian Mann, said after the plea hearing. “Thirteen-year-olds do that. Unfortunately for him, this is the kind of decision you don’t get grounded for.”
As part of his plea, Munoz was required to recount the August 2014 night that he sneaked out of his home late at night, walked to Bergstrom’s camp, fatally stabbed him, then sneaked back into his room through a window. Investigators said Bergstrom was stabbed in his recliner, but Munoz said Monday that he attacked Bergstrom with a kitchen knife after being caught trying to steal marijuana.
“He wasn’t somebody along the lines of just a 13-year-old you would typically find on the playground,” Assistant State Attorney Andreas Gardiner said. “This is someone who had a little more experience, who was more comfortable in who he was as a kid.”
Cases of juvenile killers typically present several challenges for prosecutors as they try to craft appropriate punishments. Some defendants have received long terms of supervision but no prison time, as North Fort Myers teen Tyrese Landrum is expected to get next month in the killing of his mother, which also occurred in August 2014.
Other juveniles have received decades in prison, and Gardiner said Munoz’s term was warranted given the circumstances of the killing. He said Munoz’s case “had a little more sinister feel” than Landrum’s case, noting the two had a very different set of facts.
Munoz’s family declined to comment after the hearing. In an earlier interview, Munoz’s father described the teen, who came to the U.S. from Cuba at age 1, as thoughtful boy who loved his parents.
But available records paint a more troubling picture. One month before the killing, Munoz ran away from home, leaving behind a note that said he was addicted to marijuana and crystal meth. There were also allusions to gang affiliations, though those weren’t substantiated.
“You may get the impression of a kid who tries to look hard as maybe a defense mechanism in the groups that he socializes with,” Mann said. “But push comes to shove, he’s still 13 when all of this happened.”
Gardiner said Bergstrom’s family members, who weren’t in attendance, “were in agreement with this resolution.”