Man gets 7 1/2 years in fatal attack


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- An Edgewater, Fla., man was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison yesterday as a judge began a final round of hearings in a 1998 attack that left two Maryland men on spring break dead.

Neil Kirkland, 23, was also sentenced to 22 1/2 years of probation and was ordered to pay $58,319 in restitution to survivor Seth Qubeck and the families of the two Maryland men who were killed.

Circuit Judge Shawn L. Briese also ordered Kirkland to attend mental health and substance abuse counseling because of his history of alcoholism and bipolar disorder, an illness that causes bouts of mania and depression.

Hoping for a shorter sentence, Kirkland testified that he feels guilty about what happened.

"I felt like I was aiding and abetting," Kirkland said yesterday. "I saw someone stabbed and hurt, and instead of staying with him till we got help, I got scared and ran like a coward."

The nighttime attack by seven people at a New Smyrna Beach condominium left Columbia, Md., residents Matthew Wichita, 21, and Kevans Hall II, 23, dead. Qubeck, 20, also a Columbia resident, survived 17 stab wounds.

Briese is to sentence five other participants in the attack today, including brothers from Oak Hill, Fla., who were the only ones to go on trial in the attack.

Kirkland's older brother, James, was to have been sentenced yesterday, but his hearing was postponed because of paperwork problems.

Prosecutors said the Trull brothers -- Jonathan, 30, Christopher, 27, and Joshua, 20 -- led the April 16, 1998, attack.

The Trulls' murder trial lasted nine weeks. Jonathan Trull, 30, was convicted of first-degree murder and has been sentenced to life in prison without parole. His younger brothers were found guilty of aggravated battery and aggravated assault.

Early in the investigation, Neil Kirkland pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree murder in the attack on Qubeck and agreed to testify against the Trulls.

His attorney, Thomas Greene, argued yesterday that his client's cooperation in the Trull trial, and his mental health and addiction troubles, should qualify him for a shorter sentence.

Kirkland's wife, Shelley, his father, James Jr., and a St. Johns County chaplain also testified that Kirkland is remorseful and deserves another chance.

Assistant State's Attorney Noah McKinnon noted that Kirkland's behavior made him a poor witness.

During his first interviews with police, Kirkland admitted telling lies. While Kirkland was out on bail, he was charged with driving under the influence and boasted to police about the stabbing deaths. He pleaded no contest to the charges and was sentenced to probation in 1999.

"He jeopardized his value as a witness," McKinnon said. "That severely hurt his ability to help the state."

The maximum sentence Kirkland could have been given was 11 years.

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