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Death row inmates get do-over in three local murders

Published: Dec. 1, 2020 at 7:05 PM EST
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Four men sent to death row for heinous murders in the Big Bend will now be re-sentenced in the wake of a Florida Supreme Court decision.

Last week, in a pair of opinions, justices ruled that anyone sent to death row after 2002 without a unanimous jury recommendation for the death penalty is entitled to a new sentencing hearing.

“The law on the death penalty has changed so many times over the last decade, so I can’t say that I’m surprised,” State Attorney Jack Campbell said. “I was hopeful that we wouldn’t have to do it.”

In the Second Judicial Circuit, which includes Leon County and neighboring counties, four inmates will be brought back to court for sentencing hearings, two in Wakulla County and two in Gadsden County.

Guerry Hertz and Jason Looney are on death row for the 1997 murders of Keith Spears and Melanie King. Hertz and Looney were convicted of robbing and killing the Wakulla County couple and then setting their home on fire.

In Gadsden County, the ruling impacts the death sentences of Elijah Brookins and Marvin Cannon. Brookins is on death row for stabbing a fellow inmate 26 times on board a prison bus in 2011. Marvin Cannon is on death row for stabbing a man more than 30 times on Christmas Eve 2010.

Neither jury was unanimous in its death penalty recommendation.

The Supreme Court ruling now leaves it up to prosecutors to decide if they want to seek the death penalty a second time or opt for inmates to remain behind bars for life instead.

“We’re going to proceed with the death penalty,” Campbell said of the four local cases. “We remain convinced of the appropriateness of the death penalty based on the facts and circumstances of the cases.”

The State Attorney says he estimates it will take at least a year to bring the cases back to court, given a recent statewide order halting grand juries and jury trials until a COVID-19 vaccine is readily available.

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