JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — An emotional outburst by one of two defendants convicted of murdering an elderly Jacksonville couple by burying them alive forced the judge to sever the resentencing proceeding.
Alan Wade began crying during jury selection, prompting attorneys for his co-defendant, Michael Jackson, to ask the judge to sever the case.
“I don’t see any alternative than simply reset Mr. Jackson’s [case] at some point,” Senior Judge Michael Weatherby said. He said he was skeptical anyway about the possibility of seating two juries from the remaining pool after two days of jury selection.
“I am concerned enough about the logistics of this that we are not going to get [two] jur[ies],” he said. “The emotional outburst is not the only reason I’m concerned.”
The judge acknowledged Wade’s mental breakdown just as his resentencing proceeding gets underway might prompt skepticism.
“The cynic in me says ‘how convenient,” Weatherby said.
But Wade’s attorney Allison Miller assured the judge it was an “authentic” emotional meltdown.
“Mr. Wade hasn’t slept in days,” she said. “This process is stressful for anybody, especially if their life is on the line.”
Wade and Jackson were sentenced to death in 2007 along with Tiffany Cole after the three were convicted of murdering Carol and Reggie Sumner in 2005 by burying them alive. At the time of sentencing, Judge 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.”
Because the three death penalty verdicts were not unanimous, they were thrown out in 2017 after the law changed, requiring new sentencing hearings.
Weatherby has since retired, but remains a Senior Judge and returned to preside over the resentencing.
The proceeding began Monday, and jury selection has moved slowly. Weatherby said Wednesday he intended to swear a jury by evening.