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'Buried alive' case begins; jury must choose penalty of life or death

Opening statements begin in the death penalty case of a man convicted of burying an elderly couple alive in 2005.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The entombment of two living 61-year-olds in a 4 by 6-foot grave entailed “some of the worst acts imaginable,” Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi told a jury Thursday morning. “Some evil must be punished by the highest punishment.”

His opening statement kicked off the resentencing of Alan Wade, one of four defendants convicted of murdering Reggie and Carol Sumner in 2005 by burying them alive.

Mizrahi called Wade’s decision to participate in the murder of the couple, “the thoughtful, prepared acts of a grown man who was a full, voluntary, freely-of-his-own-sound-mind-and-body participant and planner of these events.” He said the motive was greed – emptying out the Sumner’s bank account and pawning their jewels and other possessions.

“Is justice served by Alan Wade dying of old, age reading books in his jail cell or do these acts that he freely and willingly did … [deserve] the ultimate punishment?”

Wade, now 35, was 18 at the time of the murder. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 2007 along with friends Michael Jackson and Tiffany Cole. Because the death penalty verdicts weren’t unanimous, they were thrown out in 2017 after the law changed, requiring new sentencing hearings for all three. The convictions stand, however, so the jury of 12 plus 2 alternates must only choose his penalty: of life or death.

A fourth defendant, Bruce Nixon, took police to the location of the gravesite and cooperated with prosecutors at the original trial, was sentenced to 45 years in prison. Nixon agreed on Thursday to testify at Wade’s resentencing proceeding after initially refusing, citing difficulties he’s endured in prison labeled a “snitch.”

Wade appeared calm and composed Thursday, a stark contrast to his emotional meltdown during jury selection Wednesday. That outburst prompted the judge to sever his case from co-defendant Jackson whose resentencing proceeding has been postponed indefinitely. Cole’s resentencing is set for February 2023.

At the time of the original sentencing, Circuit Judge Michael Weatherby said he could hardly envision a worse death.

“This court has had a hard time in coming up with a manner of death that could be more heinous, atrocious or cruel, or more painful and vile,” Weatherby said, according to the Florida Times-Union at the time. “Perhaps watching oneself set aflame would be worse.”

Weatherby retired in 2010, but remains a senior judge in the circuit and returned to preside over the resentencing.

Wade’s attorney did not give an opening statement, reserving his time for after Mizrahi finishes his presentation of evidence. Mizrahi said he expects to wrap up the state’s case today. The case is expected to continue through next week.

Credit: contributed
Carol and James "Reggie" Sumner were murdered in 2005 by four defendants who kidnapped, robbed them and buried them alive.


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