The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentences imposed on a man convicted of five murders in two separate 2007 robberies, including one in which two women were set on fire.
The justices upheld the convictions and sentences imposed on 38-year-old Leon Davis Jr., who committed the killings just days apart in December 2007. He was convicted of killing the women – one of whom was pregnant – in the fiery robbery of a Lake Wales insurance office and shooting two clerks at a gas station.
The high court also ordered a hearing for death row inmate William Lee Thompson, 64, who pleaded guilty to the March 30, 1976, beating death of Sally Ivester. He was sentenced to death despite having an IQ in the 70 range, which the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled is the level at which it would be unconstitutional to execute a person because of intellectual disability. The Florida court ordered a new hearing to determine Thompson’s mental status.
In the Davis cases, the gas station killings actually happened first but he was not identified as a suspect until after the slayings at the insurance office on Dec. 13, 2007. Davis had been a customer at the insurance office.
Trial testimony showed that Davis, who was encountering financial problems, went to the office with a .357-caliber handgun, duct tape, a gas can and a lighter. He demanded money in a cash register and safe from the office’s two employees, Yvonne Bustamante, 26, and Juanita Luciano, 23, who initially refused.
After binding them to chairs with duct tape, Davis doused both women with gasoline and set them afire. He forced open the register and safe and got about $900, according to trial evidence.
The badly burned women managed to escape and ran outside seeking help. Davis shot Luciano in one hand as she was running, then got into his car and left. The women later died at a hospital, with Luciano’s son born prematurely and dying three days afterward.
Before she died, Bustamante identified Davis as the perpetrator. After local TV stations began showing his picture, Davis turned himself in and was convicted of three counts of first-degree murder and other charges.
While awaiting trial, detectives began to suspect Davis killed the gas station clerks on Dec. 7, 2007. The two men, Pravinkumar Patel, 33, and 51-year-old Dashrath Patel, were shot in the head as they changed lettering on the outdoor signs.
The killer did not get away with any cash. Later, investigators determined that Davis’ handgun was the one used to shoot the clerks and tire prints matched his car, according to the court rulings. He was convicted after waiving a jury trial and handed two more death sentences.
In the insurance office case, Justice James E.C. Perry agreed that Davis’ convictions should be upheld but questioned whether the death sentences were proper. Perry said there wasn’t enough evidence to show jurors found sufficient aggravating factors to warrant death unanimously, as the Supreme Court recently ruled is required.
“Even though the jury unanimously recommended the death penalty, whether the jury unanimously found each aggravating factor remains unknown,” Perry wrote. “We simply cannot assume that every juror found every aggravator beyond a reasonable doubt.”
Reprinted with permission of the Associated Press