The Florida Supreme Court ruled Monday that the retrial of a former Jabil executive charged with killing his estranged wife and her friend can move forward.
Patrick Evans' case came to a halt last year after the state's highest court ruled that only unanimous juries can sentence defendants to death and that the current law requiring a 10-2 jury vote for the death penalty can't be applied to pending trials.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Joseph Bulone ruled in October that the trial could go forward as long as jurors were told that, if Evans was convicted of the murders, all 12 of them must vote unanimously to send Evans to death row.
Evans' attorneys from the Pinellas-Pasco Public Defender's Office disagreed and filed an emergency petition with the Florida Supreme Court.
"It is not a court's job to write the law," the petition reads. "There cannot be a fair trial when there is not a constitutional law in place to follow."
In the opinion released Monday, the justices explained that even though the current death penalty statute needs to be revised, most of the law "can be construed constitutionally and otherwise be validly applied to pending prosecutions" as long as the jury unanimously finds the defendant can be sentenced to death.
In a separate ruling, the state court said a motion seeking clarification on the authority of trial courts to apply the current law to pending prosecutions was "denied as moot" and referred to their opinion in the Evans case.
"This decision provides our courts with the clarification needed to proceed with murder cases in which the death penalty is sought," Attorney General Pam Bondi said in a statement Monday.
Last month, the court rescinded an opinion in the Perry vs. Florida case after it accidentally published an order that said prosecutors could not seek death sentences under the current law.
The State Legislature is expected to pass a new statute this session.
Five justices concurred with Monday's Evans opinion. Chief Justice Jorge Labarga wrote that the "unconstitutional portion" of the current law that requires a 10-2 vote can be "separated from the rest" of the statute.
Two justices dissented in part. Although Justice Barbara J. Pariente agreed that the trial phase of a death penalty case could move forward, she disagrees with having sentences imposed without a revised law. Justice Peggy A. Quince concurred.
"What remains uncertain is whether additional appellate issues will be created by penalty phase proceedings conducted without benefit of a new statute," Pariente wrote.
Before his arrest, Evans was a Jabil vice president earning a six-figure salary and was married to Elizabeth Evans, a sales director. She later filed for divorce. On Dec. 20, 2008, she went on a date with a co-worker, Gerald Taylor. Later that day, authorities said, Evans confronted them inside her Gulfport condo and shot them dead.
In 2011, a jury convicted him on two counts of first-degree murder. The next year, a circuit judge sentenced him to death.
But in November 2015, the Florida Supreme Court overturned his conviction, citing errors in a detective's testimony and criticizing a prosecutor's remarks.
A hearing to set a new trial date is scheduled for this morning.
Times staff writer Michael Auslen contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @lauracmorel.