TAMPA, Fla. - Today was a day more than 30 years in the making, a day the family of a murdered Tampa police officer yearned for.
"My God, that felt so good," Patricia Rauft, a daughter of the fallen officer, said, raising her hands in the air after giving a statement to the court.
It was July 1981 when Detective Gerald Rauft was shot to death during a drug raid at a Ybor City home. Carlos Bello, a native of Cuba, was arrested and convicted of the murder in 1987. However, his death sentence was eventually thrown out by the Florida Supreme Court.
Since then, questions about Bello's sanity have kept him alive. Was his mental illness real or fake? That's been the subject of hearing after hearing, year after year. Until today.
"Mr. Bello is competent to proceed this afternoon," defense attorney Charles Traina told the judge.
In a deal, a possible death sentence was taken off the table and Bello agreed to a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. "You'll be going to state prison for the rest of your life. You understand that?" questioned Judge Ronald Ficarrotta. Bello was difficult to hear, but he nodded his head in the affirmative.
But before being sent away for life, Bello had to listen to Rauft's daughters, Patricia and Kimberly, talk about growing up without a dad. At times, both women addressed Bello and looked right at him. "We did not spare you the death penalty because we value your life," said Kimberly. "Your life is nothing! We never want to see you again."
Patricia told Bello, "If I were you, I'd rethink the whole going to heaven thing, because I promise you, when you arrive at the pearly gates, Detective Gerald Rauft, my father, will be waiting for you to beat the sh## out of your sorry a##."