was a few weeks from turning 18 when she shot and killed Temple
Terrace floral supply salesman Richard Menendez, 64, in August
1995, during a robbery as the victim begged for his life.
When life means life
By Curtis Krueger - St.
June 3, 2001
On the second day of her senior
year at Tampa Bay Tech, Lolita Barthel was arrested in the
The police said that she and two friends forced
their way into the home of Richard Menendez, a 64-year-old
traveling salesman. One of the friends, given a deal for her
testimony, said they had robbed other elderly people without
incident, but Menendez went for the gun, which Barthel held. She
quoted Barthel: "Don't nobody put their hands on me. I'm going to
smoke you." Barthel denies it.
Convicted of robbery and murder, she says her
mind was such a mix of fog and fear that she doesn't even remember
the judge telling her she would never get out of prison.
She did not really grasp her sentence until she
entered Jefferson Correctional Institution near Tallahassee and
"The older people walking around with canes and
stuff. They been locked up since they were 16 and now they're near
70. That's when it really hits you. Then you be like, well, that's
An older inmate asked what she was looking at.
Lolita told her: "Don't take it personal, ma'am, I just can't
She was 17 at the time of her arrest, 19 when
she reached prison. Now she's 23. "How do you cope? To me, I don't
cope. You know how you can have an issue, but put it like in the
back of your mind, or you block it out and you try to believe
something totally different? That's what I do. That's what keeps
Well-meaning friends approach her mother,
Loretha Barthel, and ask how she's getting by. "I think I'm still
in shock. After all these years, I still don't believe it."
Both still pray for a miracle. In the meantime,
they keep up traditions as best they can. At home in Tampa, Lolita
would buy her mother a watch every Christmas. Now in a prison near
Miami, she combs magazines at Christmastime until she finds a
picture of a watch. She clips it out and mails it home.
In 1999, her mother made a rare visit and they
shared a prison Christmas. Dinner came from the canteen. One of
Mom's presents was an unopened pack of cigarettes.
Mother and daughter posed for a photo in front
of a Christmas tree. Lolita, dressed in prison blues, handed her
mother an empty box that was wrapped to look like a present.