EXPLAINER: The death penalty in Florida

Exploring capital punishment in the Sunshine State

Penalty phase continues in Markeith Loyd murder trial Friday, Dec. 3, 2021. (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Markeith Loyd on Wednesday became the latest person to be handed a death penalty recommendation by a jury in Florida, stemming from his guilty verdict in the 2017 murder of Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton, WKMG reports.

Loyd has not been sentenced to death, as that’s the judge’s decision to make.

When it comes to discussing the death penalty, the conversation is prone to devolving into an emotional argument, yet capital punishment has a history in Florida that can be objectively examined in order to answer questions you may have about it.

Why does a death sentence cost more than life without parole?

At its most basic, the cost of sentencing one to death rather than keeping them in prison for the rest of their lives can be explained by pointing at the courtroom.

According to the Death Penalty Information Center, time is no issue here, rather it’s the high price of long trials and appeals that add up to far beyond what it would cost to pay for a life sentence. With death on the line, trials must be thorough, and because most people who face the punishment aren’t able to afford their own legal team, the state often pays for the cost of both defending and prosecuting these individuals.

What comes after a jury recommends the death penalty?

An individual who’s recommended to face the death penalty by a jury may not be sentenced to it by a judge. After a jury recommends a sentence, it’s up to the judge to deliver a sentence.

Shortly after Loyd was recommended for death by the jury in his second murder trial though, he requested to be sentenced then and there. As we mentioned, Loyd still has plenty of costly hours in court ahead of him before anyone learns his fate.

“I’m ready to get sentenced today,” Loyd said, verbally waiving his right to a Spencer hearing, the opportunity for a defendant’s lawyers to present additional evidence to a judge before a sentence is entered.

Loyd will be sentenced on Jan. 14 if he waives his Spencer hearing in writing.

Once an individual is on death row, only the governor can exonerate them by granting clemency, though it hasn’t happened since 1976. Interestingly, Florida has had more exonerations of individuals on death row than any other state, with 30 so far according to the DPIC.

How often are people recommended for and/or sentenced to death in Florida?

According to the Florida Department of Corrections, there are currently 364 people on death row statewide. Two people were executed in Florida in 2019, but none have been since.

The sentence is carried out by lethal injection, a method that replaced an electric chair used for executions in Florida since 1923 before it began falling into disrepair and was set aside in 2000.

Florida still allows inmates on death row to request the chair, known here and in over a dozen other states as “Old Sparky.”

Not including Loyd, there have been at least 23 death penalty decisions handed down since 2017 in Florida. It’s an important year to bring up, because that’s when Florida passed a law requiring a unanimous verdict for death penalty recommendations, with a life sentence as the alternative. Shawn Rogers of Santa Rosa County and Sean Bush of St. John’s County were the first Floridians to be handed a death decision by a jury under the unanimous verdict law in 2017.

The last person to be sentenced to death in Orange County was Bessman Okafor in November 2015, who was convicted in the murder of a 19-year-old man, yet he was sentenced in an 11-1 vote.

The sentencing occurred close enough to the passing of the unanimous verdict law that Okafor has been allowed a resentencing hearing in 2022.

About the Author:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.