COLLIER COUNTY — Benjamin Mark Roberts is awakened by the same nightmare. It’s the one in which he hears his dying friend’s last words. It’s the one that he’ll replay behind bars for the next four years. Roberts has flashbacks of April 17, 2007, when 19-year-old Jon Longuil was stabbed trying to steal a half-pound of marijuana from a drug dealer. “I wake up crying,” Roberts said. “I’m afraid to go to sleep.
“He told us he was dying. He said he needed to call his wife to tell her he loved her,” Roberts said, crying as spoke to Circuit Judge Frank Baker during his sentencing last week for felony murder and robbery. Roberts explained he tried to save his friend, stanching the bleeding, holding his friend’s heart, with a shirt. Another friend, Mitchell G. Mahon, quickly drove Longuil from North Naples to Naples Community Hospital. Despite the teens’ efforts, and surgery, Longuil died shortly before 2 a.m., 2 1/2 hours later. The man who stabbed him, Charles Piper Krueger IV, 23, acted in self-defense and was never charged with murder, only possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.
Because the death occurred during the commission of a felony, a robbery, Roberts and Mahon were charged with felony murder. Roberts had just turned 18, while Mahon was 17 at the time. The three plotted to steal a half-pound of marijuana from Krueger. It all went awry, when Krueger fought back and stabbed Longuil just feet away from his father’s home in the gated Boca Palms community. “When you’re planning a robbery, anything can happen,” Assistant State Attorney Dave Scuderi said. “That’s why you have the felony murder rule. There are consequences.”
The murder is unusual because it involves four upper-middle class North Naples teens — sons of a firefighter, day-care provider, public school teacher, cosmetologist, and a pharmacist who once studied to be a lawyer. Mark Roberts, a Collier teacher for 17 years, said calling his son remorseful is an understatement. “He’s been in a state of purgatory. He’d run into my room at night, reliving this incident, just shaking and screaming,” Roberts said as his ex-wife, Ben’s mother Donna, his older son, and mother sat listening. “We are all living with this for the rest of our lives.” Past testimony showed Mahon drove there and Krueger got in the backseat with Longuil. When Krueger fought back, Mahon and Roberts jumped out and tried to pull them apart. But Mahon inadvertently pulled the sheath off Krueger’s knife and it plunged into Longuil. Krueger then fled. Mahon, Roberts and other teens who were at the meeting to plan the robbery told investigators Longuil hatched the plot because he needed money. In February, Mahon was sentenced as a youthful offender to four years in a youth facility, followed by two years of probation.
And that’s the sentence Baker agreed to impose on a tearful Roberts after his crying father and defense attorney David Brener pleaded for leniency as a youthful offender. Meanwhile, the prosecutor and Longuil’s angry mother asked that he be punished more severely, as an adult. Scuderi asked for 10 years in a state prison. Scuderi agreed no one expected anyone to die that night and that Mahon and Roberts were equally culpable, but that Roberts arranged the $120 drug deal with a dealer he knew. But Brener repeatedly pointed out Roberts had a learning disability that affected his ability to understand consequences. He also cited his attempts to save Longuil. Longuil’s mother bitterly questioned Roberts’ friendship with her son, contending he “set him up.”
“Had he not made this connection, we would not be here today,” Longuil said, noting that she and her older son are suffering. “… You still have a second chance for a productive life.” Longuil’s wife, Donna, did not speak at sentencing. Mark Roberts cried as he described his son’s years in school, where he was branded a slow learner, prompting him to work with his son nightly. He called that frustrating for a teacher. “The stigma really got to him … and his self esteem dropped,” Roberts said. Just like Brener, Roberts said his son made every effort to save Longuil. “A lot of kids would have run with fear,” Roberts said. “He did not abandon Jon and that’s character. … and he will pay his price.”
Ben Roberts cried and apologized to Longuil, assuring her he was always a good friend to her son. “He got into trouble with money and I thought I could help out,” Roberts said, sobbing. “I never thought anything like this could happen. I’m very sorry.” Baker, known for his gentle rapport with younger defendants, whom he prods so he can arrive at the right sentence, asked Roberts, “Do you understand what her life has been like?” Choking back tears, Roberts told him: “It’s been tragic for me and probably 100 times worse for her. I can only imagine. I am greatly sorry.” Through questioning, the judge determined Roberts had sought counseling for what he was going through and had taken medication for anxiety. Roberts had also told him that speaking to students about what he’d done had helped him because he felt they’d learned from his mistake.
“You’re going to have to live with this. You’re going to have to deal with it,” Baker said as Roberts clenched a damp tissue, his hands behind his back. “The consequences of that day are horrific.” The judge told him a judge’s most important job is to be consistent with sentencing “similarly situated defendants,” and that like Mahon, he would not be eligible for the youth boot camp program and would have to spend four years behind bars. “Youthful offender prison, contrary to what people believe, is not a picnic,” Baker warned, adding that because it helps him, he also was ordering him to do 75 hours of community service telling others about what happened. “There’s a lot of things I’d rather be doing now than hearing all this sorrow and sadness,” Baker said of the hourlong hearing. “… I guess I’m going to take a chance on a life because we’ve lost a life. I’m not going to throw another life away.”
At that point, he revealed Roberts’ sentence, which also requires him to finish his GED and avoid drugs and criminals. But he held off on preventing him from seeing Mahon, leaving it up to probation officers. He allowed tearful Roberts to hug his family and they all lined up, clutching him as they sobbed their good byes. “People need to learn from this situation — think before you act,” Mark Roberts said after leaving the court room. “Things can happen so fast and change your life.”