A man convicted of killing a Holmes County sheriff's deputy will now serve a life sentence.
The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday reduced the sentence of a death row inmate who robbed a liquor store and then killed a deputy.
Terry Ray, 33, who was sentenced to death for the September 1996 murder of Holmes County sheriff's Deputy Lonnie Lindsey, will now serve a life sentence.
Lindsey was fatally shot not long after Ray and a cousin, Roy Hall, robbed the State Line Liquor Store in Holmes County in the Panhandle, near the Alabama border.
Lindsey, 26, who lived half a mile from the store, was off-duty because of illness but responded in his patrol car to a police radio report of the robbery. As the robbers fled in a pickup truck, they had to pull over on a rural road, apparently because of a dragging muffler. Lindsey pulled up behind the vehicle and a gun battle erupted. Lindsey was killed. Ray and Hall were captured soon after.
Ray's death sentence was unconstitutional for a couple of reasons, the high court's unsigned ruling said.
First, his cousin, Hall, was sentenced to life in prison, even though he was at least as guilty of Lindsey's murder as Ray, and probably more so.
"Much of the evidence points to Hall as the dominant player in the crimes," the court wrote, noting that Hall did almost all of the talking during the robbery and seemed to be in charge.
"In addition, only Hall had shotgun injuries caused by the officer," the court wrote. "Finally, Hall's statements and questions to paramedics suggest that he was responsible for shooting the officer."
Although the state sought the death penalty for both men, the jury recommended life for Hall.
But even without the disparity between the cousins' sentences, Ray's death sentence would have to be reversed, the Supreme Court wrote.
The high court is responsible for judging the "proportionality" of all death sentences in Florida to make sure that only the worst murders are punished by death. The circumstances of Ray's crime don't qualify, the court said.
Chief Justice Major Harding and Justices Leander Shaw, Harry Lee Anstead, Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince made up the majority. Justice Charles Wells said he would have upheld the death sentence because the victim was a deputy.
In two other capital cases Thursday, the high court rejected appeals by two killers condemned in Miami-Dade County. It upheld three death sentences given to Manuel Rodriguez and one of two death sentences given to Jesus Delgado.
Rodriguez, 44, was convicted in the 1984 murders of Bea Joseph, Sam Joseph and Genevieve Abraham in an apartment. He was on probation and parole at the time and had dozens of prior convictions for violent felonies.
Delgado, 37, was sentenced to death for the 1990 murders of Tomas and Violetta Rodriguez. The court upheld the death sentence for Violetta Rodriguez but ordered that the death sentence for the murder of Tomas Rodriguez be reduced to life in prison.