Now that a grand jury has indicted Kenneth Dwayne Ezell on charges of conspiracy and first-degree murder, one question remains:
Will prosecutors seek to have Ezell languish in prison the rest of his life, or will they seek the death penalty?
Ezell's defense lawyer assumes the worst.
"I have not been told that at this time," Charles Vaughn said. "Until further notice, anticipate that they will."
State Attorney Brad King, who oversees all prosecutions in the 5th Judicial Circuit, will handle the case along with Assistant State Attorney Bill Catto, who once worked in King's Citrus office but now heads the Hernando County office.
King, who attended the grand jury sessions, did not clarify the matter.
"I typically do not comment on that," King said, "other than by the appropriate official notice."
The prosecution has 45 days from the date of the suspect's arraignment _ in this case, Wednesday, when the grand jury indicted Ezell and the charges were read to him _ to file notice with the court that it would seek the death penalty if a jury finds Ezell guilty as charged.
Ezell, who was arrested in December, had not waived his right to a speedy trial and was originally scheduled for trial May 11 for conspiracy to commit murder.
Following his lawyer's advice, Ezell on Wednesday agreed to waive his right to a speedy trial. Circuit Judge Michael Blackstone granted Vaughn, who was recently appointed Ezell's attorney, a 60-day period to formally interview witnesses and examine the case.
If the prosecution seeks the death penalty, Vaughn said, then the complexion of the case would change.
"First, I'm going to protect my client on all the constitutional issues in a first-degree murder trial," Vaughn said. "We're going to keep in issue the constitutionality of the death penalty, and certain discovery motions have to be met, and jury instructions have to be specially prepared."
The felony trial docket extends to the end of July. Ezell will not stand trial until August at the earliest.
Ezell, 28, of Inglis is accused of killing Daniel "Gambit" Sites, a former drug dealer and confidential informant. Sites, 27, of Hernando was reported missing Aug. 5, 1996.
Authorities allege that Jeffrey Sean Hamilton, a convicted drug trafficker now serving an 11-year prison sentence, hired Ezell to kill Sites to settle outstanding debts.
Hamilton's wife, Tina Marie, told deputies and the grand jury that she overheard Ezell and her husband discuss Sites' murder in 1996 before Sites disappeared. The murder occurred between July 24 and Aug. 5, according to the grand jury's report.
Ezell, who is being held without bail at the Citrus County Detention Facility, is accused of fatally beating and shooting Sites, then feeding his corpse through a wood chipper. Despite widespread rumors about what happened to Sites, authorities have not located his remains.
King said that will not hinder his case.
"There have been a number of reported cases where people have been convicted without the body," King said. "Were it otherwise, depending on how good you were at hide-and-seek, you couldn't be prosecuted regardless of all the other evidence. The law is clear: You can be prosecuted whether there's a body or not."