Sara Atwood sniffed back tears while her family members sat nearby.
“I still love everybody, regardless,” the 25-year-old Inverness woman said Friday afternoon.
Then Circuit Court Judge Richard “Ric” Howard sentenced Atwood to 40 years in prison for her part in killing Lecanto resident James Roman in April 2017.
The motive was simple, prosecutor Pete Magrino said: Atwood did it for the money, knowing she would be a beneficiary in Roman’s will.
Co-defendant Christopher Eugene Smith, 34, of Dunnellon, had already pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and was sentenced in August to life in prison. Smith, according to records, strangled Roman after he opened the door on a late April 2017 night to let Atwood in.
Atwood had been raised by her grandmother, Shirley, and Roman became both her grandfather and father when he married Shirley.
Friends described Atwood as compassionate and thoughtful, prior to her grandmother’s death.
“She was very gentle, very kind toward us, almost like an adopted daughter,” Lonnie Harrison said.
But later in her teen years, she began to abuse methamphetamine and other drugs and started hanging with the wrong people.
Harrison said remove those influences, and Atwood is the same person who he and his wife befriended.
“If you wipe away the layers, I think you would find a good person in her,” he said.
Others, though, painted a different picture.
Atwood’s former boyfriend, Garrett Todd, said Atwood told him she wanted to kill her grandfather for the inheritance of $80,000.
“It was never by name, it was always ‘grandfather,’” said Todd, who is currently serving 25 years in prison for felony convictions.
Mary Courtney, one of Atwood’s aunts, blamed her niece for Roman’s death even though it was Smith who strangled Roman.
“Sara was the driving force,” Courtney told the judge. “(Smith) would never known Jimmy existed, would never have known where he lives, if Sara hadn’t taken him there.”
Courtney said Atwood could have called on Roman or any of her relatives for help, even with money.
“Sara had options,” she said.
Courtney added the victim “could easily have been one of her elderly aunts.”
“Like you,” Howard said.
“Like me,” Courtney answered.
Magrino asked Howard to sentence Atwood to life in prison for second-degree murder and armed grand theft.
Atwood said she deserves punishment.
“I’ll never forget the sound of his voice,” she said. “I should have protected my dad like he did for me all his life.”
Atwood has two children, ages 2 and 4. She gave up her parental rights and the children were adopted by relatives in Naples.
Her attorney, Charles Vaughn, said there’s a difference between Atwood and Smith, her co-defendant.
“He’s a killer and he’d do it again,” Vaughn said. “That’s not Ms. Atwood. That’s Mr. Smith.”
Howard said sending Atwood to prison for life would be easier on her.
“You sit there and get ready to die,” he said of a life sentence. “Something less is more torturous.”