A Bradenton man and his girlfriend were driving home from lunch at Olive Garden on April 13, 2017, when she teased him by flicking candy wrappers at him when he pulled up to a red light.
He took out his gun from the center counsel and held it to the left side of her stomach. Then he pulled the trigger.
Amaris Peralta, 28, ended up dying from her injuries nearly two years later, on Valentine’s Day 2019.
On Wednesday morning, Circuit Judge Frederick Mercurio sentenced Jimmy Hernandez-Pantoja, 24, to 20 years in prison. After his release, Hernandez-Pantoja will be on probation for five years.
“While there is no making sense of this tragic and unprovoked act of violence, we sincerely hope the resolution of this case brings some closure to the victim’s family,” said the lead prosecutor in the case, Assistant State Attorney Lauren P. Benson.
Hernandez-Pantoja, 19 at the time of the shooting, claimed he didn’t know the gun was loaded. He rushed his girlfriend to Manatee Memorial Hospital and she was later taken to Blake Medical Center for treatment of her life-threatening injuries.
They both told Manatee sheriff’s homicide detectives later that day and in the days that followed that the shooting was an accident and that he “was messing around with the gun.”
But in February 2018, Peralta spoke with sheriff’s detectives again, telling them that Hernandez-Pantoja should have known the gun was loaded and that it wasn’t the first time he had pointed it at her. At the time, she and Hernandez-Pantoja were no longer in a relationship.
Hernandez-Pantoja repeatedly told detectives that he didn’t know the gun was loaded and didn’t mean to shoot Peralta.
Two months later, he was arrested and charged with attempted murder. On Aug. 15, 2018, he pleaded no contest to the charge and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
But when Peralta died in 2019, the 12th Circuit Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the manner of her death as homicide. Hernandez-Pantoja was later charged with second-degree murder with a firearm.
Hernandez-Pantoja was brought back from prison to Manatee County to face the charges. Earlier this month, he was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of manslaughter with a firearm.
“Jimmy Hernandez has and is taking responsibility for his actions in causing his girlfriend’s death, notwithstanding the equivocal fact that he did not intend or mean to kill her,” his defense attorney Liane McCurry said in a defense statement filed with the court ahead of his sentencing hearing. “He will live with the knowledge that, if he had not played around with his gun at the red light on U.S. 41, Amaris would not have suffered as she did, and she would be alive today.”
Hernandez-Pantoja was given credit for the time he has served in jail or prison dating back to his April 30, 2018, arrest on the attempted murder charge.