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Legislation pushes for unanimous jury in death penalty cases

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – In May 1998, Cynthia Harrison was found bound, gagged and stabbed to death in a Pensacola Popeye's restaurant. The safe was empty. Another employee, Timothy Hurst, was convicted in the murder.

The jury recommended seven to five that Hurst be sentenced to death. Now, that split vote threatens to undermine Florida's death penalty. The U.S. Supreme Court said it will hear Hurst's case this term. The Florida Catholic Conference said it's because Florida is an outlier.

"Well, we are the only state that doesn't require unanimity on each aggravating circumstance. And No. 2, we're one of very few states that don't require unanimity in the recommendation to the judge," said Ingrid Delgado, with the Florida Catholic Conference.

Florida's Supreme Court began asking lawmakers to require a unanimous jury as early as 2005.

After 23 years as a police officer, Rep. Ray Pilon is now a co-sponsor of legislation requiring unanimous jury verdicts.

"We still have the death penalty. And I think that it's only fair that we have a unanimous jury that makes that decision," Pilon said.

Opponents of the unanimous jury bill point to infamous murderer Ted Bundy. He went to the electric chair on an 11 to one jury recommendation. The Catholic Conference said times were different.

"I don't think the Ted Bundy case is comparable, because the jury received a different series of instructions," Delgado said. "They weren't required to be unanimous."

Florida's death penalty is already on hold as the U.S. Supreme Court considers whether the drugs used in a lethal injection are considered cruel and unusual.