Jury to Decide Fate of Florida Bank Shooter

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A jury will soon decide the fate of a Florida man who admitted to a 2019 bank shooting that resulted in the deaths of five women.

Zephen Xaver, a 27-year-old former prison guard trainee, confessed to five counts of first-degree murder last year after being charged with the deadly shooting at SunTrust Bank in Sebring, Florida, more than five years ago.

Jury selection for his sentencing trial began this week. The process had faced multiple delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic, legal maneuvering, and attorney illnesses.

Since Xaver has already pleaded guilty, the jury is tasked only with deciding whether he should receive a death sentence or life imprisonment.

Attorney Chelsea Simmons, not connected to the case, appeared on “Truth Voices Now” Tuesday to discuss the challenges ahead.

Sebring, a small community approximately two hours south of Orlando in central Florida, may find it difficult to assemble an impartial jury panel, Simmons noted.

Under a new Florida law, the jury requires only an 8-to-4 vote, not a unanimous decision, to sentence someone to death.

“The main aim during jury selection is to ensure that jurors comprehend the significance of their individual votes,” Simmons stated.

There are substantial aggravating circumstances in the case, she added, emphasizing that prosecutors will likely aim to “demonstrate significant premeditation.”

Impact statements from the victims’ friends and families could also influence the trial.

“While these statements aren’t technically aggravating factors or reasons for the death penalty, they are a crucial part of the case in illustrating who these individuals were,” Simmons said.

The victims included Cynthia Watson, 65, recently married; bank teller coordinator Marisol Lopez, 55, a mother of two; banker trainee Ana Pinon-Williams, 38, a mother of seven; bank teller Debra Cook, 54, a mother of two and a grandmother; and banker Jessica Montague, 31, a mother of one and a stepmother of four.

Nichole Berlie
Nichole Berlie
An Emmy award-winning veteran journalist, Nichole has delivered special reports and covered some of the most significant stories impacting America, including the Capitol Riot and the guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd. She holds a master’s degree in Journalism from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Nebraska.

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