Florida Supreme Court halts resentencing of notorious murderers in Wakulla County

Death penalty standards at issue as court stops resentencing of Guerry Hertz and Jason Looney
Florida Supreme Court halts resentencing hearing in Wakulla County
Published: Jun. 19, 2023 at 8:33 PM EDT
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WAKULLA COUNTY, Fla (WCTV) - The resentencing of two men convicted of one of Wakulla County’s most notorious murders was halted Monday, just minutes after attorneys started choosing jurors to hear the case.

Guerry Hertz and Jason Looney have been on death row since 2000, Florida Department of Corrections records show.

The two were sent to death row for the 1997 murders of Melanie King and Keith Spears. Hertz and Looney were convicted of robbing and shooting the couple and then setting their mobile home on fire.

The men’s convictions still stand, but Monday the two were back in a Wakulla County courtroom to be resentenced.

Assistant State Attorney Eddie Evans says jurors had already been qualified and attorneys were about to begin questioning them when the Florida Supreme Court issued a stay and the judge halted the proceedings.

“While it’s unfortunate that the resentencing was delayed at the last minute, we hope that a resolution of the defendants’ petition in the Florida Supreme Court will resolve the question of which procedures should be used statewide,” Evans said.

The move came after attorneys for Hertz and Looney asked the Florida Supreme Court for an emergency stay on Sunday, saying proceeding would do “irreparable harm.”

The resentencing of Hertz and Looney followed a 2020 state supreme court decision that any defendant sentenced to death without a unanimous jury recommendation was entitled to be resentenced. The jury in their case was split 10 to 2, according to our WCTV archives.

Florida lawmakers passed a new death penalty standard during this year’s session which requires only an 8 to 4 majority to recommend the death penalty. It was signed into law in April 2023.

“On May 23, 2023, the trial court entered an order ruling that this amendment is to be applied at the trial,” defense attorney Zachary Ward wrote in his request for the emergency stay. “That is a substantive change that will directly increase the likelihood of a death sentence,” he wrote.

A decision in this case, or a similar one in Escambia County, could resolve this question for similar death row cases across the state, Evans said.

“We would have been flying blind to some extent,” Ward said. “They haven’t even promulgated the jury instructions for the new law yet.”

Hertz and Looney will be sent back to death row for now, Ward said. It’s not clear how long it could be before the Florida Supreme Court makes a decision on how the new death penalty law should be applied.

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