Photos by Keith Carson
Story by Debbie Carson
2nd place News Story
Fla. Press Association
2007 Better Weekly Awards
Community News Publications Staff Writer
The family of 16-year-old Devyn Marie Burke can finally
sleep soundly now that the man who left the Northdale girl to die on US 41
is firmly behind bars for at least nine years.
Micah Steven Azbill, now-31, was sentenced to spend the
next 12 years in the state penitentiary and will never again be allowed to
have a Florida driver's license. He will also serve three years under community
control after his release and perform 200 hours of community service.
He could have been sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in
prison or to a minimum of 22 months. Based on state law, Azbill would be required
to serve at least 85 percent of his 12-year sentence - about 10 years - and
get credit for the 11 months he has spent in the Hillsborough County jail
- putting his prison sentence closer to nine years. He could be 40 when he's
out of prison. His daughter, now 8, could be 17 by then.
"You struck a human being in a horrible crash,"
Judge Emmett Lamar Battles said while handing down his sentence. "You
knew you had struck her. You were not only aware of this but made a conscious
decision to leave the scene. This court is convinced you are a danger, sir."
Why the Land O' Lakes floor installer left a girl dead or
dying on a Lutz highway was never completely answered by Azbill. The man who
authorities said should not have been driving had 21 citations since 1993.
"I'm legal. I had no reason to run," Azbill testified
before his sentence.
* * *
His sentence ended six hours of lengthy and tearful testimony
from scientific and law enforcement experts and several family members and
The sentence also ended a nearly yearlong chapter for the
Burke and Azbill families after Micah Azbill struck and killed Devyn Burke
as she tried to cross US 41 near Dennison Road on March 17, 2006 - St. Patrick's
"I think I will sleep tonight," said Devyn's grieving
mother, Shawn Burke of Northdale, outside the courtroom after Judge Battles
"It's more than I thought he was going to get,"
Burke said of his sentence. "I'm happy."
Not long before the sentence came down, Burke's emotions
* * *
Shawn Burke was one of seven people who took the stand and
spoke on behalf of Devyn, pleading with the judge for justice for Devyn.
"I don't want to become angry," Burke told the
judge with a shaky voice, "but I can't help it."
She showed Judge Battles a framed picture of her with Devyn.
"This is one of my treasures," she said, telling
the judge that all she has now are photos and memories.
Burke told the judge that she wears a vial filled with Devyn's
ashes around her neck everyday as a way to remain close to her eldest daughter.
She has a daughter Kyndell Lopez who was 6 when Devyn died.
She has also paid tribute to her daughter with a new tattoo
on her upper left shoulder - two angels forming a heart. Inside the heart,
the tattoo reads: "In loving memory - Devyn 6-13-89 to 3-17-06."
Judge Battles sat on his bench looking at Burke and all
the others who testified for Devyn with a face that was hard to read. He left
the audience wondering just what type of sentence Azbill would get.
* * *
Morgan Schmidt, who considers herself Devyn's honorary cousin,
was the first to testify on behalf of the teen.
Friends for about nine years, Schmidt told Judge Battles
that Devyn was a sweet girl who didn't deserve to die young.
She also asked the judge how he would prevent Azbill from
breaking the court's order since he has shown that he has no respect for the
* * *
Quiet gasps escaped tired faces sitting in the audience
as Public Defender James Siegfreid called Micah Azbill to the stand to testify
on his own behalf.
Spreading a prepared statement out on a desk, Azbill planted
his manacled hands on either side of the wrinkled piece of paper and leaned
over. Staring directly at the words on the paper, he read:
"I would like to express my deepest apologies. If there were anything
I could do to make this all go away, I would do it in a second."
His body seemed to shake slightly as he read his statement.
His sentences punctuated with sobs.
He said he was sorry for causing "great turmoil" and that he could
only guess at the pain of losing a child.
"I would never minimalize" the case, Azbill continued.
He said that he should have done what he was supposed to do - stay at the
scene of the crash.
"I am truly sorry," he finished. "I'm so
Devyn's side of the courtroom sniffled and hummed in anger - a low level growl
almost escaping their throats. Prosecutor Kim Seace had warned the crowd earlier
about maintaining decorum. No outbursts.
The courtroom audience seemed to be divided very much like
the way guests are seated at a wedding. Azbill's family and supporters sat
nearest the Public Defender's desk, while Devyn's supporters sat opposite,
behind the prosecutor.
Azbill's side of the courtroom wept as he voiced the sorrow
they, too, felt for Devyn's family.
* * *
Prosecutor Kim Seace peppered Azbill with questions regarding
why he was out on the road that night.
Azbill finished reading his statement and had wiped his
"You knew you shouldn't be driving, correct?"
she asked Azbill. She reminded him of previous statements when he had said
he got off work around 4:30 p.m. - more than 5 hours before the crash.
"I didn't want to drive drunk," he replied, not
answering her question.
Seace pointed out that he had a business license - one that restricts him
to drive from home to work and back again.
The license, she said, did not allow him the privilege to
drive someone home and stay at the person's home to play cards and drink beer.
Azbill had testified to that during depositions.
Azbill said he thought that driving a friend home from work was business related
and did not think it violated his restrictions.
"It was in my better judgment to not drive drunk,"
he said. He had two or three beers at his friend's house, stopping at about
6 p.m. Azbill said he waited at his friend's home until he sobered up before
heading for his own home.
"You knew you hit a person, right?" Seace asked,
putting the question a different way.
After a long pause, Azbill said, "Yes. It wasn't an animal or a car."
Seace asked if he remembered hitting a male or female. He
said he couldn't recall.
"It happened so quick," he said. Seace refreshed
his memory. She pointed to a passage in one of his recorded statements that
he told officers that he saw pink clothing.
Muffled sobs filled the silence in the courtroom.
Seace asked Azbill what he did after the collision - if he drove to the Hess
gas station down the road.
Azbill said he did go to the gas station and got out of
the car and looked at the damage.
Did you notice the windshield? Seace asked, holding up a photograph of the
severely damaged vehicle.
"Couldn't help but notice the windshield," was
She asked him about the view through the windshield, so
woven with cracks that it would be almost impossible to see through from behind
the steering wheel.
"Heh, heh, heh, I guess so," came Azbill's chuckled
Friends of Devyn bristled with anger after hearing his near-laugh. Some mumbled
disbelief in his seeming casualness toward the crash, minutes after what had
appeared to be his heart-felt apology.
Seace then spent the next several minutes grilling Azbill
on why he never called authorities to report the crash. She pointed out numerous
opportunities that he never acted on.
"When I'm in shock, when someone dies in front of my
eyes, it's kind of tragic," Azbill said, his voice slightly raised in
Seace asked if Azbill's prior driving history had played
a role in his decision to leave the scene.
Azbill has received at least 21 traffic-related citations and convictions
since 1993, according to his record.
Seven of his citations were for driving with a canceled,
suspended or revoked license - two of which resulted in felony convictions.
He has also been cited for running five stop signs or red
lights, speeding five times, driving carelessly twice, and being involved
in two crashes - though the record did not show if he had been the at-fault
He said that his record didn't enter his mind.
"I'm legal. I had no reason to run."
* * *
As with Devyn's side, Azbill's friends and family were given
an opportunity to address the court.
Micah Azbill's father, Paul, was the first to address Judge Battles. With
an even tone, Paul Azbill told the court that he and his wife would be willing
to take Azbill in for community control - probation. He also told the judge
that he has been a pastor in the Land O' Lakes area since 1994 and has spent
50 years in ministry.
Paul Azbill did not take the opportunity to speak on behalf
of his son, as Micah Azbill's sisters did.
* * *
Azbill's eldest sister, Paula Hout, apologized to the court
and Devyn's side for the actions of her "much younger" brother.
"I wanted to say I'm deeply sorry," Hout said,
her words choking in her throat. "We are truly, deeply sorry."
Hout also told the court that Azbill has an 8-year-old daughter,
who presumably lives with her mother.
She said that she knew Azbill was on prescription medications
- an antibiotic and a painkiller, which she thought was Vicodin.
Public Defender asked Hout if their family has ever suffered
the loss of a family member.
She said that one of their sisters died from carbon monoxide
"He was devastated," Hout said of her brother
when their sister died.
* * *
Tammy Jones, another sister and Jones' wife, told Judge
Battles that theirs is a very tight-knit family. Everyone comes over to the
house on Sunday for a family dinner.
"I know my brother never would have done anything on
purpose," she said, turning to look at Devyn's side of the courtroom.
Many of Devyn's friends shook their heads in disagreement.
* * *
The six hours of testimony ended with a 10-minute break
that dragged on for 15 minutes as Judge Emmett Lamar Battles deliberated in
For those 15 minutes, the weight of the judge's decision
hung heavily on the audience. Some in Devyn's camp wondered if their own testimony
was strong enough to convince the judge to sentence Azbill to the maximum
15 years in the state prison.
Others wondered if the doctors' testimony was enough to cast a shadow of doubt
on Azbill's mental acuity.
Friends and family passed around scrapbooks and photos of
Devyn. They spent the last few minutes of the hearing hoping that Devyn would
finally get the justice they had fought for.
* * *
Twelve years in prison. Followed by three years of probation
and 200 hours of community service. Never to have a Florida driver's license
"I can deal with 12 years," Shawn Burke, Devyn's
mother said, outside the courtroom after the sentence was handed down.
"It makes a statement," Devyn's aunt, Heather
* * *
"All agree this is a tragedy for all involved,"
said Judge Battles.
"I'll never have her back," said Devyn's mother,
But she will have some peace of mind - now that the man
who killed her daughter will never be allowed on the road again.