Heidy Rivas Villanueva: Appeal rejected for man involved in shooting death of Jacksonville girl

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — An appeals court Wednesday upheld the conviction and 25-year prison sentence of a man who was involved in a shootout that killed a 7-year-old girl who was sitting in her family’s car in the parking lot of a Jacksonville shopping center.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected arguments by Stanley T. Harris, now 22, who pleaded guilty to third-degree murder in the 2018 death of Heidy Rivas Villanueva.

The appeal centered, in part, on Harris’ contention that he was improperly prevented from withdrawing the plea agreement, citing confusion about bullet-related evidence.

But the appeals court backed a circuit judge’s decision to deny the request to withdraw the plea agreement.

“Appellant’s (Harris’) contention that his confusion regarding ballistics evidence was the deciding factor in his decision to plea -- rather than the higher-degree charge of felony murder which he acknowledged avoiding by virtue of his plea -- stretches credulity,” appeals-court Judge M. Kemmerly Thomas wrote in an eight-page decision joined by Judges Brad Thomas and Timothy Osterhaus. “And his contention that he was mistaken is inconsistent with his previous confirmation that he had sufficient opportunity to confer with counsel.”

Heidy was shot when her family was caught in the crossfire of a gun battle related to a robbery attempt.