A jury heard how Alvin Morton bragged about killing a 75-year-old grandmother and her 55-year-old son. They heard how he cut off the man's right pinkie finger as proof of the crime.
Based on what they heard, the jury said Morton, now 24, should die.
On Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court said the jury may have been misguided.
Because prosecutors made statements during closing arguments the jury never should have heard, the court overturned the death sentence and ordered Morton be given a new penalty hearing.
Grace Bowers, 59, was quiet when she heard that her husband's killer may escape the death penalty.
"I have no harsh words for (Morton)," said Bowers, who was separated from her husband, John Bowers, at the time of his death. "He (Morton) had a hard life, I heard. I don't think his parents taught him right from wrong."
Morton, who was 19 at the time of the crime, confessed to leading three other teens to the home of Bowers' mother, Madeline Weisser, shooting Bowers in the back of the head, then stabbing Weisser repeatedly in the neck.
The court's decision to throw out the death penalty in the 1992 killings angered Weisser's brother, George Pollock, 75, and his wife, Loretta, 54.
"She was like a second mother to me," Pollock said from his home in Largo. The couple learned of the double murder when they saw Weisser's home on a television news report.
"Nobody told us about this either," said Mrs. Pollock. "The justice system stinks. Nobody cares about the victims. He killed two people and then bragged about it. I don't understand why there is even a question in this."
In its opinion, the court acknowledged that Morton's guilt is indisputable, based on his confession and other evidence.
Morton and three others, Bobby Garner, Tim Kane and Chris Walker, went to Weisser's house on the night of Jan. 26, 1992. Morton, carrying a shotgun, kicked in the door. One of the other teens had a "Rambo-style" knife.
Bowers and Weisser were ordered to lie face-down on the floor. As Weisser watched her son plead for his life, Morton shot him in the back of the neck. Morton tried to shoot Weisser but his gun jammed.
He tried to stab her but the knife would not penetrate. Garner stepped on the knife and pushed it in deeper. Weisser was stabbed eight times in the back of the neck.
Garner was sentenced to two consecutive life terms, without possibility of parole for a minimum of 50 years. Kane was sentenced to serve his two life terms concurrently, meaning he could be out of prison by 2017.
Convicted of the lesser crimes of being an accessory to murder and conspiracy to commit armed robbery, Walker, who did not go into the house, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The court's decision to throw out Morton's death sentence was based on a problem with evidence heard by the jury after it had found Morton guilty.
During the trial's penalty phase, jurors heard testimony on which they would decide whether his crime was so heinous as to deserve the death penalty.
On numerous occasions, the court said, prosecutors read to witnesses damaging statements they had made in depositions, in an effort to refresh their memory.
Jurors were directed to consider only direct testimony from the witness stand _ not earlier statements given in deposition.
But the prosecution's frequent references to that earlier, more damaging _ but inadmissible _ evidence may have confused the jurors, the court said.
Further, "the inadmissible evidence was the major evidence which established" that Morton should get the electric chair, the court said.
Grace Bowers said she often thinks of John and wonders whether they could have reconciled their differences. Because of Morton, she said, she will never know.
"I hope they don't let him get away with it," she said. "All I can say is I hope they give him the death penalty. He deserves it.'