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Hit men not assured of hirer's sentence

Published Oct. 20, 1995|Updated Oct. 4, 2005

(ran SE edition of LT, S edition of TAMPA BAY & STATE)

Just because the woman who hired them got a life sentence is no reason to automatically give two hit men convicted of murdering a St. Petersburg doctor the same sentence, a judge said Thursday.

Chief Judge Susan Schaeffer rejected motions by the defense attorneys for Meryl McDonald and Robert Gordon to either give them a life sentence or grant them a new hearing before a jury on what sentence they should get for murdering Dr. Louis Davidson last year.

However, Schaeffer said that when she sentences McDonald and Gordon on Nov. 16, she will take into consideration the fact that the doctor's estranged wife, Denise, received a life sentence with no chance of parole for 25 years.

In June a jury convicted McDonald, 49, and Gordon, 32, of being the contract killers who beat, bound and drowned the doctor in the bathtub of his St. Petersburg apartment on Jan. 25, 1994.

The jury recommended by a vote of 9-3 that each man be sentenced to die in the electric chair. By law, the judge must give the jury's recommendation great weight in imposing the sentence.

Originally Mrs. Davidson, 35, had been scheduled to be tried at the same time as the two hit men. However, her attorney had a medical emergency, forcing her trial to be delayed until September.

Last month a jury convictedher of first-degree murder, too, but recommended she get life in prison. The judge who presided over that trial immediately imposed a life sentence.

So McDonald's and Gordon's attorneys came to court Thursday _ the day Schaeffer had been scheduled to sentence the two men _ and argued that their clients should get life, too.

"The disparate treatment needs to be remedied," defense attorney Michael Schwartzberg said.

The only alternative would be to empanel a new jury, let it hear that Mrs. Davidson got a life sentence and let that jury make a new recommendation about what sentence McDonald and Gordon should get, Schwartzberg said.

But Assistant State Attorney Fred Schaub argued that the killers who carried out the slaying are more culpable than the person who paid them to do it.

"That's disgusting, that somebody would kill somebody they didn't know for money," he said.

Schaub cited other cases in which the person who hired a killer received a sentence different from the trigger man.

And he pointed out that the jury that recommended death for the hit men heard more aggravating circumstances against them than did the jury that recommended life for Mrs. Davidson.

Two other people were indicted for murder in the doctor's death. One, getaway driver Susan Shore, pleaded no contest to being an accessory and was deported to England.

The other, Mrs. Davidson's boyfriend Leo Cisneros, has yet to be apprehended.

When Schaeffer announced the sentencing date for the hit men, Schwartzberg said, "That's assuming the state does not find Mr. Cisneros before then."