JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Duval County jury has recommended death for Michael Jackson, one of the defendants found guilty in the 2005 murder of Reggie and Carol Sumner, according to the State Attorney's Office.
The jury verdict was 8 to 4. Florida law was recently changed to say that the jury does not need to be unanimous for a death sentence. Instead, the majority of jurors must vote in favor of the death penalty. Under the previous law, Jackson would not have received a death sentence.
Jackson was convicted for two counts of first degree murder, two counts of robbery, and two counts of kidnapping to commit a felony in 2007.
Judge Michael Weatherby will formally sentence Jackson at a later date, said a release from the SAO. His sentencing is currently scheduled for August 11.
Jackson was the ringleader of a group of four who buried a Jacksonville couple alive in 2007.
It was a heinous crime that has been mentioned in several TV documentaries. The couple, both 61, were bound and buried alive in a shallow grave. When they were discovered by police, the couple had broken out of their binds but was only able to embrace before dying.
It was Jackson who prosecutors said had the idea for the crime. He was initially sentenced to death, along with co-defendants Alan Wade and Tiffany Cole. But a Florida law change that altered the requirement for a defendant to be sentenced to death allowed Jackson to appeal his original sentence.
The Sumners were Cole's neighbors in South Carolina before they moved to Jacksonville. Jackson, the mastermind of the crime and Cole's boyfriend, targeted the couple because of their money.
Despite the couple handing over passcodes for multiple bank accounts, Jackson murdered them to "eliminate them as witnesses" according to the SAO release. When police began searching for the couple, Jackson tried to conceal their death.
This is the second time Jackson has appealed -- he asked for his case to be re-considered in 2009, but his conviction and sentence were upheld.
“This remains one of the most shocking and evil crimes our community has ever suffered — cold, calculated, premeditated, heinous, atrocious, cruel," said State Attorney Melissa Nelson. "Despite the passage of time, law enforcement and the prosecution, led by Alan Mizrahi, have remained steadfast in their commitment to this case and to the friends and family of Reggie and Carol Sumner."
Jackson was supposed to be re-sentenced along with co-defendant Wade in June 2022. But a judge separated the two cases after an emotional outburst from Wade.
Wade began crying during jury selection, prompting Jackson's attorneys to ask that he be tried separately.
“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.”
Wade was tried under an old law requiring a unanimous jury for death (and escaped a death sentence).