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Gunman Albert Clark avoids maximum sentence for fatal shooting in Lantana in 2020

Gunman Albert Clark avoids maximum sentence for fatal shooting in Lantana in 2020


Urged by prosecutors to find Albert Clark guilty of murder, jurors instead convicted him of manslaughter. He will spend decades in prison regardless.

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WEST PALM BEACH — Two families made emotional pleas in a West Palm Beach courtroom Friday, one demanding justice for Angel Vargas, the other urging mercy for the man who killed him.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Howard Coates landed somewhere in the middle. He sentenced Albert Clark, 33, to 45 years in prison, ending a years-long case that led to two murder trials earlier this year. The sentence is 15 years less than prosecutors had recommended, but decades more than Clark’s defense attorneys sought.

Coates’ decision comes two months after jurors convicted Clark of second-degree murder. They were the second to hear the case after the judge declared the first a mistrial, clearing the way for a retrial in April.

For a week, prosecutors and Clark’s team of public defenders offered competing versions of what happened on May 27, 2020. Both versions began in a crowded Kmart parking lot along Federal Highway, where Vargas and his friend Carlos Hernandez met Clark to inspect the Ford F-150 he had advertised for sale online.

According to all reports, the sale did not go through. The reason remains in dispute.

Related: They thought the ‘stand your ground’ defence would save them. Only once did a judge agree.

Hernandez said that after the sale fell through, Clark lured them to a secluded parking lot and demanded the money anyway, killing Vargas and paralyzing Hernandez as they tried to drive away. Clark testified that the opposite was true: After he called off the sale, the men followed him to the empty lot and trapped him there, leaving him no choice but to pull out his gun and shoot.

His self-defense argument, first given to police and years later to Coates, didn’t stop prosecutors from charging him with first-degree murder and attempted murder. It did impress jurors, though. Their manslaughter verdict ended Clark’s hopes of acquittal, but spared him an automatic life sentence.

If Coates’ sentence stands, Clark will be 78 years old when the sentence expires.

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Coates’ decision followed Clark’s apologies to Vargas’ family and to himself.

“I’m terribly sorry for what happened,” he said. “I’m truly sorry that you lost a loved one, that I’m potentially losing everything that I’m about to lose.”

District Attorney Carey Haughwout described Clark as a hardworking man who was taken from his biological mother as a child and had no significant criminal history until his arrest in 2020. She called on Clark’s loved ones to testify about his character and how the deaths of his brother and stepmother in 2019 had negatively impacted him.

She also gave the judge a spreadsheet of 26 other defendants convicted of manslaughter with a firearm in Florida between 2022 and 2023. Cindy Anderson, a former software engineer and current assistant district attorney, testified that the average sentence was about 12 years, with a maximum of 25 years and a minimum of one year.

“Is Mr. Clark the worst?” Haughwout asked, urging Coates to take the examples in the spreadsheet to heart. “I wouldn’t.”

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Assistant District Attorney Marci Rex pointed out that Larry Darnell Young, who was sentenced by Coates in 2023 to 40 years in prison for manslaughter with a firearm, was not mentioned in the spreadsheet. Haughwout objected when Rex began questioning Anderson about the argument’s absence, but his position was quickly overruled.

“I know what I did in Young, and it’s not here,” Coates said. “It should be.”

Rex called Vargas’ mother, Maria Moreno, and sister, Beatriz Vargas, to testify, with the help of a Spanish interpreter. Both spoke of the pain they’ve endured since Vargas’ death in 2020. Beatriz said she feared Clark would hurt someone else if she had the chance. She held up a photo of her brother.

Clark’s brother Brent Clark Jr. did the same.

“I feel sorry for what happened to the family, but he feared for his life,” he said.

Investigators found no evidence that Vargas or Hernandez were armed. Rex reminded the judge that Clark did not call 911 after the shooting, but instead fled from police. When they arrested him, “he lied and lied and lied.”

According to Rex, he didn’t act like someone who was scared.

Hannah Phillips is a journalist covering public safety and criminal justice at The Palm Beach Post. You can reach her at [email protected].