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Death sentence thrown out in murders of couple buried alive

Florida Supreme Court throws out 4 death sentences

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Supreme Court is ordering new sentencing hearings for four inmates currently on the state's death row, including a woman convicted for her role in the 2005 murders of a Jacksonville couple who were buried alive. 

The high court on Thursday threw out the sentences because a jury did not unanimously recommend the death penalty. Last year, the court ruled death sentences have to be unanimous, which the court put in place in response to U.S. Supreme Court rulings.

The state court said anyone sentenced after a 2002 ruling could be eligible for a new sentence.

Among those getting a new hearing is Tiffany Ann Cole. She was one of three people convicted and sentenced to death for the 2005 murders of Carol and Reggie Sumner. 

The couple were kidnapped from their St. Nicholas home, driven to ATMs to make withdrawals, then buried alive in Charlton County, Georgia. 

Cole’s lawyers claimed six appeals grounds, including ineffective counsel by the trial lawyer. They were all denied, but the state Supreme Court cited the Hurst decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, which found part of Florida’s death penalty law unconstitutional.

The state Supreme Court also noted its recent ruling that death sentences must be unanimous, even retroactively. Cole’s death sentence was a 9-3 verdict. 

She will get a new sentencing hearing.

The other two who were convicted in the case were Michael Jackson (8-4) and Alan Wade (11-1), so they will likely get new hearings as well. They were tried separately. 

A fourth person, Bruce Nixon, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. He testified against all three co-defendants.

One of the other inmates who were ordered Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court to get a new sentencing hearing is Michael Bargo, convicted for taking part in a teenager's 2011 torture and slaying.