Florida Supreme Court spares 2 double-murderers from death

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Two double-murderers were spared execution Thursday after years on death row when the Florida Supreme Court ordered both to be re-sentenced to life without parole.

In one case, the justices decided that death would amount to unequal punishment; In the other, they said mitigating factors should have ruled out execution.

Robert McCloud, 35, faced capital punishment for the 2009 murders of Tamiqa Taylor, 26, and Dustin Freeman, 23, who were killed while McCloud and three other men tortured and robbed Wilkins Merlin, a known drug dealer, according to court documents.

The group ransacked Merlin's house, taking about $5,000 in cash, $10,000 in marijuana and a handgun. But they were convinced Merlin was hiding more and tortured him, trying to learn where. They dropped a 40-pound dumbbell on his head, sliced his arms with a steak knife, doused him with boiling water and bleach, and shot him several times in the stomach, testicle and thigh.

They also killed Freeman and Taylor, with gunshots to the heads from close range.

Merlin survived, as did his 3-year-old daughter, who was found physically unharmed at the crime scene.

Prosecutors could have sought the death penalty for all four. Instead, they made plea deals and the other three received sentences of 10 to 15 years for second-degree murder in exchange for their testimony against McCloud.

The Supreme Court said McCloud's double death sentences were unfair because his co-defendants were just as culpable and received far less severe sentences. The court also noted that the jury determined McCloud wasn't the shooter.

Terrance Phillips, 25, had been awaiting execution for the murders of Mateo Hernandez-Perez, 26, and Reynaldo Antunes-Padilla, 30, whom he shot during a botched 2009 robbery. After two women posing as prostitutes entered the victims' apartment, Phillips and a friend burst in and a struggle ensued, during which Phillips fired three shots, killing both men.

The Supreme Court agreed Phillips is guilty, but said he shouldn't have been sentenced to death because he was 18 at the time and is borderline intellectually disabled.

Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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