JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A star witness in the case of a Jacksonville couple murdered by being buried alive changed his testimony on the stand Thursday, throwing the death penalty resentencing into a temporary tailspin.
Bruce Nixon, former best friend of defendant Alan Wade, took the stand in shackles and green inmate scrubs and declared that he intended to tell "the truth." Nixon previously testified against Wade and the two other defendants in the case in 2007. All four were ultimately convicted of murdering an elderly couple by burying them alive, but Nixon was the only not sentenced to death. He got a 45-year sentence.
Nixon was known to be a reluctant witness, having suffered in prison for his role as a "snitch" in the case. But he became a defiant one on the stand, claiming he was under the influence of drugs, and coached in his testimony by his then-defense attorney back in 2007.
"I was on Xanax and methadone at the time, so I was in and out of consciousness, you know what I’m saying?" he told the judge. "So he filled in the blanks for me, and told me what to say. So I was guided in my testimony. And now I’m 35 years I don’t care what happens to me."
Senior Judge Michael Weatherby, who presided over the original trial, was skeptical. "I am sure that did not happen," he said.
He cautioned Nixon about the consequences of changing his story. "You could be prosecuted for perjury, and possibly that your plea agreement could be set aside."
Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi echoed that, saying Nixon would again be facing the death penalty if he violated the terms of his plea deal.
Wade's attorneys objected to what they said amounted to Nixon being "bullied" out of testifying. They asked the judge to recuse himself, saying he was injecting himself into the case. The also repeatedly asked the judge to declare a mistrial. He denied both requests.
The defense then threatened to call Nixon as their own witness. Judge Weatherby responded that if they are "crazy enough" to do it, "so be it."
Ultimately, the judge agreed to bring in an attorney to counsel Nixon privately on the potential consequences of changing his story, and dismissed the jury until Monday.
The case got officially underway Thursday after years of delays and days of jury selection. Armfuls of evidence, including the shovels used to bury the couple alive in 2005, were part of a discovery haul brought in for the resentencing of Alan Wade.
Wade, already convicted of the murder of Carol and Reggie Sumner, is being resentenced because his original death penalty verdict wasn't unanimous.
Initially, the case was supposed to be a dual resentencing, but after Wade had an emotional meltdown in front of the jury pool yesterday, the judge granted co-defendant Michael Jackson's motion to sever the case. No date is set yet on Jackson's case. The fourth death row defendant, Tiffany Cole, is scheduled to be resentenced in Feburary 2023.
Juries in resentencing proceedings do not have to decide guilt or innocence, only life or death.
Reggie and Carol Sumner, both 61, were kidnapped from their home in Jacksonville's St. Nicholas neighborhood in 2005, and buried alive in a pre-dug grave in Georgia. The motive for the crime was "greed," Mizrahi told jurors -- simply to gain access to the couple's bank account and possessions.
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