Jurors Speak About Decision to Impose Life Sentence in Florida Case at Center of Conflict Between Prosecutor and Governor

Posted on Nov 08, 2019

On March 16, 2017, saying that capital punishment is “not in the best interests of this community or in the best interests of justice,” Orange/Osceola County (FL) state prosecutor Aramis Ayala announced that her office would not pursue the death penalty in any case. That decision, announced in connection with the prosecution of a man charged with killing his ex-girlfriend, her unborn child, and a police officer responding to the crime, ignited a political firestorm in which then-Florida Gov. Rick Scott removed Ayala from the case and replaced her with a special prosecutor. Scott subsequently issued executive orders removing Ayala from at least 26 other homicide cases.

On October 23, 2019, a Florida jury rejected the death penalty in the case that started it all, imposing a life sentence on Markeith Loyd (pictured) for the killings of Sade Dixon and her unborn child. The special prosecutor had sought the death penalty over the objection of Dixon’s family, who had supported Ayala’s decision to decapitalize the case. Loyd still faces a second trial and possible death sentence for the murder of police Lieutenant Debra Clayton.

Two jurors from Loyd’s trial spoke to local news outlet WFTV in early November, explaining how they reached their decision. One juror, who requested anonymity, said that two members of the jury were not initially certain of Loyd’s guilt, but were persuaded by the rest of the jury to vote to convict. “There were just some that didn’t believe that he’d committed the murders,” she said. Though the jury was split on the question of the appropriate sentence, she said everyone discussed the matter respectfully.

Jury foreman Glenn D. Glasgow said he told the jurors before they began their deliberations: “This is a decision that you’re going to make that tomorrow, you’re going to look at yourself in the mirror and go ‘I’ve made a right decision, based on my moral or ethical upbringing, this was my decision. As long you can live with that decision,’” he said, “’that will be the right decision.’” The jury deliberated less than an hour before returning a life verdict. Four jurors opposed a death sentence, Glasgow said. Glasgow said the jurors respected each other’s judgment and did not ask for explanations why they voted for or against the death penalty. Following the vote, there were no efforts to try to change the minds of any of the jurors.

Loyd’s case entered the national spotlight as the vehicle chosen by Ayala (pictured) to announce her blanket rejection of capital prosecutions. Scott’s response raised questions of racial and political insensitivity, as a white Republican Governor stripped the state’s first locally elected African-American state attorney of authority to set policy on a punishment closely tied to the history of lynching and racial discrimination in Florida. Scott replaced Ayala, a Democrat, with a white Republican prosecutor from neighboring Lake County, which was known for the lynching and wrongful use of the death penalty against the “Groveland Four” — four young black men falsely accused of the rape of a white woman.

Ayala challenged the governor’s authority to remove her from the cases, but the Florida Supreme Court ultimately ruled it was “well within the bounds of the Governor’s broad authority.” In May of 2019, Ayala announced that she would not seek a second term as state attorney, saying that the court’s decision had made it “abundantly clear to me that death penalty law in the state of Florida is in direct conflict with my view and my vision for the administration of justice.”

Prior to 2017, the non-unanimous jury vote in Loyd’s case might still have resulted in a death sentence. At that time, Florida law vested the final sentencing decision in the hands of the trial judge, who could accept a death-recommendation made by even a bare majority of jurors or override a jury recommendation for life. In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down that sentencing scheme in Hurst v. Florida, writing, “The Sixth Amendment requires a jury, not a judge, to find each fact necessary to impose a sentence of death. A jury’s mere recommendation is not enough.” In 2016, the Florida legislature repealed the jury override provision, but still permitted the death penalty if 10 or more jurors recommended death. After the Florida Supreme Court struck down that law in Perry v. State, the legislature passed the current statute, which requires a unanimous jury recommendation for death before a judge can consider imposing a death sentence.


Megan Cruz, Katy Camp, and Christopher Boyce, There were just some who did­n’t believe that he com­mit­ted the mur­ders,’ Markeith Loyd juror says, WFTV, November 1, 2019; Megan Cruz, 4 jurors opposed death penal­ty for Markeith Loyd, fore­man says, WFTV, November 4, 2019; Jamiel Lynch, Tina Burnside, and Eric Levenson, Markeith Loyd avoids death penal­ty for killing his ex-girl­friend and her unborn child, CNN, October 232019.