Will jury recommend death penalty for man convicted of killing 2 Putnam County boys?

Penalty phase begins Monday for Mark Wilson Jr. in murders of 12-year-old Robert Baker, 14-year-old Tayten Baker

For the first time in 10 years, a Putnam County jury could help send a man to death row. Mark Wilson Jr. was convicted of murdering two young brothers in 2020.

PUTNAM COUNTY, Fla. – A man convicted of killing two young Putnam County brothers in 2020 will learn soon whether he will be sentenced to death for their murders.

Mark Wilson Jr. was found guilty earlier this month on two counts of first-degree murder for killing 12-year-old Robert Baker and 14-year-old Tayten Baker. He was dating their aunt when the boys were stabbed and bludgeoned in their home in Melrose.

The penalty phase for Wilson began Monday with opening statements at 9 a.m. in Putnam County Court, where the jury that convicted Wilson will decide whether or not to recommend the death penalty.

“This becomes infinitely more complicated when you factor in the possibility of Death Row,” said attorney Gene Nichols, who is not affiliated with the case. ″They know that the decision that they make is going to take a life or not.”

The same jurors found Wilson guilty on all counts after three grueling days in court that included emotional testimony.

RELATED: Mother of man accused of killing Putnam County boys testifies in trial | Mother, grandmother of slain Putnam County boys testify in accused killer’s trial

For the penalty phase, the defense is expected to call several psychologists, who will tell the jury of Wilson’s “extreme mental or emotional disturbance” at the time of the murders and that “his capacity to appreciate the criminality of what he was doing was substantially impaired.”

One of the defense witnesses on Monday was forensic toxicologist Dr. Susan Skolly Danziger, who told the jury how Wilson was affected at a young age by drug abuse. Danziger was one of the defense witnesses in the penalty phase of Nicholas Cruz in the Parkland massacre.

The state will also call one or two psychologists to give their assessment of Wilson and will present victim impact statements.

Criminal Defense Attorney Richard Kuritz tried numerous death penalty cases when he was an assistant state attorney.

He told News4JAX that in Florida, to seek the death penalty, you have to have an aggravator. Aggravators included premeditated felonies, especially heinous, atrocious, and cruel and those done for monetary gain.

For Wilson to face the death penalty, all 12 jurors would have to make a unanimous decision.

RELATED: Forensic psychologist says man convicted of murdering 2 Putnam County boys could have experienced ‘meth-induced psychosis’ | Man convicted of murdering 2 Putnam County boys could face death penalty

Florida began requiring a jury’s unanimous consensus for the death penalty in 2017. If they can’t come to a unanimous decision, the death penalty comes off the table. But even with a death penalty recommendation from the jury, the judge has the final say in sentencing.

The family members of the boys have made their feelings clear: They want Wilson to be executed.

“We don’t want to work and pay taxes for him to live. Point blank. Period,” cousin Kelli Coco said.

Family members of the young victims said feel like they received a victory with the convictions, but they did not receive the answers they were looking for on what would drive Wilson to do such a terrible thing seemingly out of nowhere.

Although Wilson did not provide a clear motive for killing the boys, in a recorded interview, Wilson told investigators he was high the morning of the murders, had been up for three days and didn’t remember them.

Forensic Psychologist Dr. Justin D’Arienzo told News4JAX that coverage of the case suggested Wilson could have been experiencing meth-induced psychosis.

“It is a psychotic reaction based on the drug use that mimics somebody that has schizophrenia,” D’Arienzo said.

He said the drug can make people agitated, suspicious and delusional including hearing and seeing things that aren’t present.

According to D’Arienzo, nearly 40% of people who use meth will experience some levels of psychosis -- even if it’s their first time.

“There are a lot of people who use meth who don’t commit a grisly murder like this,” D’Arienzo said.

D’Arienzo said sleep deprivation, a history of mental illness and stress can fuel psychosis.

As for answers, D’Arienzo said we can’t use reason to understand behavior that defies logic.

“That’s the biggest thing is why did Tayten and Robert have to die? Why? What is the reason? We didn’t get that, and we’re not going to get that. I don’t think we’ll ever get it,” D’Arienzo said.

About the Authors:

Ashley Harding joined the Channel 4 news team in March 2013. She reports for and anchors The Morning Show.

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter