SEBRING, Fla. — A man accused in the shooting deaths of five people at a SunTrust bank building in 2019 changed his plea to guilty Tuesday after originally pleading not guilty.
Zephen Xaver, who was 21 when the shooting happened on Jan. 23, 2019, faces multiple counts of premeditated first-degree murder in the deaths of five women: Ana Piñon-Williams, 38; Cynthia Watson, 65; Marisol Lopez, 55; Jessica Montague, 31; and Debra Cook, 54.
The now 25-year-old has been sitting behind bars since the shooting in 2019, and court filings showed his plans to change his plea on Tuesday.
Xaver was questioned by the judge about his competency, asking if he understood full well the consequences of pleading guilty — ultimately that the state is pursuing the death penalty.
"Yes, ma'am," Xaver said several times, including the understanding that the start of a jury trial was set to begin in January 2024. The judge asked if he understood the rights he was giving up.
"Yes, ma'am," Xaver replied. When asked if he needed to talk with an attorney, he replied, "No, ma'am." The judge then accepted his plea.
Now that Xaver has pleaded guilty, the case moves on to the penalty phase.
After the shooting, the bank never reopened. Instead, it was torn down and replaced with a memorial to honor and remember the five women killed. Sebring Mayor John Shoop at the time said the tragedy forever changed the community and the SunTrust company.
"It’s something we know happens around the world, happens around our country, but it doesn’t happen to us, but it happened to us," Shoop said.