Sharon Spillane, neighbor of accused Sebring SunTrust Bank shooter describes Zephen Xaver.
Xavier Mascareñas, email@example.com
SEBRING, Fla. — Zephen Xaver, the 21-year-old who police said shot five women execution-style last month inside a Central Florida bank, could face the death penalty if convicted, officials announced Friday.
“I will seek the ultimate punishment,” State Attorney Brian Haas said of his decision to seek the death penalty, at a Friday news conference. “If you look at the situation, with the horror of what happened, with five victims, it was, for me, an obvious conclusion to reach.
Xaver was indicted by a grand jury Friday morning on five first-degree murder charges in connection with the mass shooting.
He will be arraigned Feb. 25.
Sebring Police Chief Karl Hoglund said Xaver walked inside SunTrust Bank about 12:36 p.m. on Jan 24 and gunned down four employees and one customer:
- Jessica Montague, 31;
- Ana Piñon-Williams, 38;
- Marisol Lopez, 55, of Lake Placid;
- Debra Cook, 54
- Cynthia Watson, 65, of Venus, the customer
A man who was in a rear office heard gunshots and escaped the bank, according to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office. His name was kept confidential.
Several of the victims’ names were withheld in the weeks after the shooting, with police citing “Marsy’s Law,” a constitutional amendment expanding victims’ rights that Florida voters approved in November.
Some family came forward on their own, and the last of the names were made public in the indictment.
Xaver, who lived in Sebring, bought a 9 mm gun locally in the days before the attack, investigators said.
A motive, if there was one, has not been explained publicly. One day after the shooting, Hoglund, the police chief, said the attack appeared random.
Xaver spoke to police the night of the shooting, but that part of his arrest affidavit was redacted.
Police said he remained on the line with 911 dispatchers and hostage negotiators until a Highlands County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team burst inside the bank at 1:54 p.m. He surrendered unharmed and was in custody at 2:28 p.m.
Seeking the death penalty
Haas, the state attorney, said he spent Thursday meeting with victims’ families to discuss the indictment and whether the death penalty would be appropriate.
“There was no hesitation,” Haas said of their reactions.
Death penalty cases take years to reach trial in Florida and decades often pass before an execution. There are 343 people on death row in Florida, some of whom were convicted in the 1970s.
“It’s very likely going to take a long time to get this to trial, and that’s a very frustrating thing for our victims. It’s frustrating for our community,” Haas acknowledged. “This is not a situation where there’s going to be closure… anytime soon.”
Recent Florida Supreme Court rulings have led some prosecutors to be more selective in choosing to seek the death penalty, as a 12-person jury must now unanimously recommend a death sentence for a judge to pronounce one.
Death penalty cases require “aggravating factors,” which make the crime worse than other murders.
Prosecutors in this case intend to rely on the following:
- There were multiple victims;
- It was especially heinous, atrocious or cruel; and
- It was committed in a cold, calculated and premeditated manner without any pretense of moral or legal justification.
Hoglund spoke briefly at the Friday news conference, expressing his faith in the criminal justice system and asking everyone to keep the community in their thoughts and prayers.
“It’s very tough. We have a lot of questions obviously — the ‘Why?’ and, ‘How could this happen?’ And it could’ve been any of us in that bank that day. But I don’t have those answers,” Haas said.
“My answer is the only thing I know and that’s to prosecute this case in the best way we can and that’s what we’re going to do.”
The Sebring community comes together to aid in healing after the murders of 5 women at SunTrust Bank.
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