Death sentence upheld in 2018 murder at Columbia Correctional

Robert Craft (Courtesy of Florida Department of Corrections)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The state Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the conviction and death sentence of an inmate who strangled and fatally beat his cellmate at Columbia Correctional Institution in 2018.

Justices unanimously ruled against Robert Craft, who told investigators that he decided to kill Darren Shira after learning that Shira was in the North Florida prison for allegedly molesting children, the ruling said.

Craft represented himself at trial and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder, with Columbia County Circuit Judge Paul Bryan subsequently sentencing him to death.

The Supreme Court weighed issues such as whether the judge properly considered what are known as “mitigating” and “aggravating” factors before imposing the death sentence.

Also, the court delved into Craft’s decision to plead guilty to the murder while representing himself.

“Our review of the record confirms that Craft’s guilty plea to first-degree murder was knowing, intelligent, and voluntary, and the factual basis for Craft’s plea provides competent, substantial evidence to support his conviction for first-degree murder,” the 26-page ruling said.

Craft, now 30, was originally sentenced to prison in 2015 on a series of charges from Polk County, including aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.