ORLANDO, Fla. - A man was sentenced to 25 years in prison on Friday for killing a 21-year-old woman last year over a cup tossed from a car window that he mistakenly thought was being thrown at him.
WFTV's Daralene Jones was in court Friday as 22-year-old Ruben Rodriguez took a plea deal. He will not be eligible for parole for killing Victoria Straughter.
Straughter's family said she was on the road to becoming a doctor to continue medical mission work in Nigeria, where she traveled before to help sick children.
But on Sept. 15, 2011 she was killed while driving through downtown Orlando. Rodriguez was with a group of friends near the intersection of Garland Avenue and Pine Street.
While at the stop light, Straughter's passenger tossed a plastic cup out of the window in Rodriguez's direction.
WFTV learned that Rodriguez thought they were trying to hit him with the cup, so he shot her in the neck.
"The life you took, it mattered. It mattered. She was just not some girl that was riding in a car that you had a beef with. She was important," said Straughter's sister, Michelle Straughter-Martin. "Twenty-five years isn't enough to erase the memory of that night or the nightmares that I still sometimes have."
Rodriguez accepted a plea deal from prosecutors, giving him 25 years in prison.
Instead of expressing anger toward Rodriguez, Straughter's family encouraged him to turn his life around while in prison.
"Come out a better man than you went in, because it would be a waste to her life and to others for you to continue on doing the same thing that you did that day, or worse," said Straughter's aunt, Carol Straughter-Brewer.
The family said they were worried that a jury wouldn't convict him had the case gone to trial, despite several eyewitnesses who put him at the scene and identified him as the shooter.
Rodriguez apologized to the family before he was fingerprinted, saying that all he can do now is try to become a better man.
The family said that brings some comfort.
The video from Orlando's iris cameras was critical to finding Rodriguez, as were the efforts of Crimeline.
At the time, the organization's flyers and community outreach helped track Rodriguez down just 20 days later, hundreds of miles away in Buffalo, New York.
Also investigators think Jonathan Garcia helped Rodriguez get to New York. Garcia was charged with accessory after the fact and was sentenced in July to three years in prison.