Over 50 in-person attendees and 40 online viewers silently gathered in the minutes leading up to Joshua Figueroa’s change of plea hearing on Monday morning.
Figueroa is being charged with killing UF student Maggie Paxton in a hit-and-run that occured Dec. 9, 2020. He previously pleaded not guilty but decided to change his plea to no contest, neither admitting or denying guilt to the charges.
The judge did not accept the change of plea with the proposed minimum sentence by Figueroa’s attorney, Robert Rush. Figueroa, his mother, father and Rush all sat in silence without visible rejection.
Paxton’s friends and family and fire rescuers were somber as they filed into the Judge Stephen P. Mickle Criminal Courthouse to hear victim impact statements and Judge Phillip Pena’s decision on the defendant’s no contest plea.
Figueroa and his attorney proposed the minimum sentence, serving four years with 10 years of felony probation after. They were unable to be reached for comment.
Deborah Rothenburg, assistant state attorney for the Office of the State Attorney Eighth Judicial Circuit, told the judge that 10 years of felony probation would allow the defendant to prove if he is a decent person who made a mistake, or if he is, in fact, a criminal and was only caught this time.
The Paxton family expressed in their victim witness statements that they believe the defendant needs to be held fully accountable, and the judge said the court is having difficulty accepting the change of plea.
Attendees offered each other tissues. Some stepped out of the courtroom with tears in their eyes as Rothenburg informed the judge what happened the night of the crash.
Rothenburg told Judge Pena, after discussion with the family, that the state is not in agreement with the plea, further expressed by the victim impact statements from Paxton’s friend Kylee Borg, Paxton’s mother Lisa, Paxton’s sister Holly and Paxton’s father Jim. Judge Pena said the court is not in agreement either.
Borg took the stand first to share her statement with unsteady breaths and a wavering voice.
She told the judge that the defendant had changed everyone’s lives forever and it’s unacceptable the defendant is allowed to continue living in society while her and everyone affected by Maggie’s death scrapes by.
Borg shared with Judge Pena how close Paxton and her were. Borg and Paxton, who were UF freshmen at the time, had four months together when they were supposed to have four more years together in college, Borg said.
She ended her statement telling the judge that she wants Figueroa to never forget what he did to Paxton that night in Dec. 2020.
Lisa Paxton slowly walked to the stand, taking deep breaths on the way. She began her statement by telling the judge she has not and will never be the same since the night her daughter was killed.
“The one who made me a mom first is gone forever,” Lisa Paxton said.
Time has not fixed the pain or the piece of her soul that was ripped away, she said through tears. Lisa Paxton shared with everyone that she is in constant distress, desperation and a paralyzing fear that something has happened to her youngest daughter or someone else she loves.
On March 17, two UF students were involved in separate hit-and-runs within hours of each other. Mackenzie Mullen was hit while riding her scooter on University Avenue, a few blocks from where Maggie was hit, and had critical injuries. Prateek Sharma was hit and killed while walking along the sidewalk on Southwest 34th Street by a drunk driver.
“I relive that night every night, imagining her lying in the street all alone,” Lisa Paxton said.
She told Judge Pena how proud she is of her daughter and all her accomplishments, turning her attention to Figueroa and the handful of people that showed up for him. She pointed at the defendant, his mother, and father telling them there is no excuse or apology worthy for what Figueroa did to her daughter. All three of them sat stoically.
Lisa Paxton recalled the seven months it took for Gainesville Police Department’s investigation to find Figueroa and his vehicle, which was hidden in his parents’ auto shop yard.
She finished her statement hoping for one thing for Figueroa.
“I do hope the defendant finds God in prison,” Lisa Paxton said. “At least one ounce of Him.”
Holly Paxton, Maggie’s sister, opened her statement, while wiping away tears, with her recollection of the events that happened the night her family was notified. Holly was awoken by the “gut-wrenching screams” of her mother and found her father embracing her on the floor in their home with two police officers standing outside the front door.
Holly Paxton has flashbacks and nightmares of that night, explaining to the judge how difficult life has been for everyone since the defendant killed her sister.
“Stepping foot into my own home made me feel ill,” Holly Paxton said.
She told Judge Pena how differently she is treated at school, even bullied by invasive, personal questions. She would sob until it was hard to breathe, she said.
“The definition of selfish is lacking consideration for others,” Holly Paxton said. “This exactly describes the defendant before you today.”
Figueroa’s hands were in his lap and eyes down.
Jim Paxton, Maggie’s father, embraced his daughter as she sat down. He made his way to the stand.
“There will be no college graduation, there will be no career, there will be no love of her life, there will be no wedding, there will be no grandchildren to spoil,” Jim Paxton said.
He called Figueroa a coward for taking his daughter away, for not staying on the scene to help and for hiding for seven months until GPD took him into custody.
“I’m not inclined to accept the minimum sentence,” Judge Pena said. “This does not appear to be a minimum case.”
The judge set the next court date for the afternoon of April 20 and expedited a two week presentence investigation, documents that will show the legal and social background of the defendant to determine if there are circumstances that may influence the severity or leniency of sentencing.
On April 20, the court will review findings from the presentence investigation and further statements from both sides.
As the court was adjourned and the defendant and attendees that showed up for him were leaving, a long-time friend of Maggie’s yelled out from the pews “F*** you,” before Figueroa left the courtroom.
Friends and family members gathered in the hallways outside, sharing laughs, hugs and memories of Maggie. Most of them said they will be back here on April 20 to take the next step forward. Like Maggie’s favorite saying, “Progress over perfection.”
Contact Troy Myers at @email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Troy_Myers1.
This story has been updated to reflect that Figueroa changed his plea to no contest. The Alligator previously reported differently.
Troy is the criminal justice reporter and a fourth-year journalism major with an outside focus in business administration. He previously studied accounting for two years at Santa Fe College but has since transferred to UFCJC. When Troy isn’t writing, he enjoys going to the beach and spending time with his dog, identical twin brother and family.