Young love can be all-consuming, and for teenagers Seath Jackson and Amber Wright, their romance had stirred up some powerful emotions.
They were both 14 when they’d started dating and for a few months they’d been inseparable, but when their relationship turned sour, they used social media to publicly lash out at each other.
Behind the bravado, Seath was heartbroken, so when Amber suggested they try to work things out, he jumped at the chance. But as he headed to meet her, trusting Seath walked straight into a trap so depraved it shocked America to its core.
Seath Jackson, 15, lived in rural Belleview, Florida, known as the ‘city with small town charm’. It was a religious community where older residents relished the quiet, and the youngsters struggled to find fun.
Seath was a bright young lad who grew up climbing trees, riding his BMX and skateboarding, but as he got older he turned his attention to hanging out with his mates and finding a girlfriend. At 14, he started dating Amber Wright and he fell for the pretty redhead. She was confident, with a big circle of friends.
In early March 2011, they were both 15 and Seath confessed his love for Amber on Facebook. Then, just weeks later, the pair broke up. Amber accused Seath of being unfaithful and their arguments spilled out onto social media.
In April, Amber wrote on Facebook, “I got so tired of you treating me like I was nothing. If you’re so perfect, why don’t you get over your jealousy and get a new girl you can hurt. You know I cared deeply about you. I stuck with you through a lot of stuff… It takes a real man to accept the fact he got broken up with.”
Seath responded with, “We both need to just let all of this go. Yeah we split, yeah it hurt, but I’m over it. I’m just not going to let Mike have his cake and eat it too.”
Mike was Michael Bargo – Amber’s new boyfriend, and he was about to take their bickering to a whole new level. Seath didn’t think Mike was good enough for Amber, and Michael, 18, developed a hatred for Seath that led to a truly barbaric act.
On April 17, 2011, Amber sent Seath a series of text messages asking him to meet her so they could work things out. Seath was with friends who thought there was ‘something up’ with her change of heart. Even Seath thought it was suspicious and replied saying he was worried about getting ‘jumpt’. But he’d been more cut up by the break-up than he’d let on, so he agreed to go and see her.
That night, he went to the rural trailer home of Amber’s female friend Charlie Ely, then 18, in nearby Summerfield. As he walked through the front door he was ambushed. Amber and Michael lay in wait, with Amber’s step-brother Kyle Hooper, then 17, and a friend, Justin Soto, then 20. Amber and Charlie stood by as Seath was beaten over the head with wooden objects.
Outnumbered five to one, Seath didn’t stand a chance. Michael had a gun and shot Seath – but the bullet didn’t kill him. Terrified, Seath tried to run but he was pulled back and Michael shot him again. Seath was thrown into the bath tub and when he still showed signs of life, Michael fired another bullet into his beaten body.
The pack of teens broke Seath’s knees so they could hog-tie him and stuff his body inside a sleeping bag. They hauled him outside into a backyard fire pit and set him on fire. Neighbours would later recall seeing terrifyingly high flames.
When Seath was just ash and bone fragments, they shovelled his remains into paint cans and threw them into a nearby quarry before cleaning the crime scene with bleach.
When Seath didn’t come home, his mum reported him missing. Then Kyle confessed to his mum that he’d watched Seath being killed and she reported it to the police. It didn’t take long for officers to link the murder to the five youngsters and the community were left in shock that a teenage ‘love triangle’ could end in such violence.
There was trial after trial as Seath’s devastated family fought for justice. Amber’s step-brother Kyle Hooper was sentenced to life in prison without parole. So was Justin Soto.
Charlie Ely, who lived at the crime scene, was also given life. At her trial, she insisted that Michael had threatened her and she’d only gone along with it out of fear.
Seath’s mother Sonia dismissed her crocodile tears.
“Some say your life is over,” she said. “But you will still see and talk to your family. You will still get letters and birthday cards. You will still laugh and cry. I have no sympathy for the tears you shed. They have not been for Seath, but rather for what’s happened to you.”
The trial of Michael Bargo, now 23, made the biggest headlines as he became the youngest person on Florida’s death row.
“May God have mercy on my soul,” he said, as he was given the death penalty. Michael had used his right to remain silent throughout his case, but did protest his innocence saying he’d arrived after Seath had been killed.
His defence tried to blame his behaviour on his parents’ messy divorce and even a blow to the head as a child. It didn’t work.
The judge said it was the “most cold, calculated and premeditated case of murder I have ever seen.”
When it came to Amber’s conviction, it was more complicated. In her first trial in 2012 she claimed she didn’t know the violence would lead to Seath’s death, which the jury dismissed, and she was given a life sentence.
But it was overturned on a technicality because she wasn’t read her legal rights correctly at the time of her arrest. In January this year, Amber, now 19, was back in court. For a second time, she was found guilty of first-degree murder.
Even though she hadn’t pulled the trigger, many saw Amber as the catalyst for the killing. The prosecution said, “The defendant probably played the most important role in that murder. She was the bait. Her job was to lure Seath Jackson to the house.”
The judge was deeply shaken by the crime. “I have not seen or heard anything more despicable than what lead to Seath’s death,” he said.
Seath’s mother, who attended every single one of the trials, made sure Amber knew her feelings.
“Amber, we hope guilt eats you inside and out knowing that you caused all this,” she said. “All this happened because of you.”
Seath’s mother fought hard for justice, because her son sadly couldn’t win the fight for his life against five evil cowards.