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Florida Supreme Court upholds death row inmate's sentences in 2007 Polk County murders

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentences of a man convicted of committing five murders in the span of a week in Polk County.

The rulings come less than a month after the court ruled in Hurst vs. Florida that Florida juries must be unanimous in putting a defendant to death.

In one ruling, the court upheld the death sentences Leon Davis Jr. received for the murders of two men. That was in part because he waived his right to have a jury in the penalty phase of that case. Instead, Davis, now 38, opted to let the judge impose the sentence.

Those murders took place on Dec. 7, 2007, when Davis shot Dashrath Patel and Pravinkumar Patel at a BP gas station on Interstate 4. He was convicted of those crimes in October 2012.

In another ruling, the court upheld the death sentences for Davis for burning two women to death on Dec. 13, 2007. The jury in that case unanimously recommended that he be put to death.

That was the day Davis robbed an insurance office in Lake Wales and set two employees, Yvonne Bustamante and her pregnant sister-in-law, Juanita "Jane" Luciano, on fire.

Davis was found guilty for their deaths in 2011. Luciano's newborn, Michael Bustamante Jr., was delivered but eventually died. For that, the jury voted 8-4 for the death penalty, but the trial judge reduced it to a life sentence.

"The unanimous recommendations here are precisely what we determined in Hurst to be constitutionally necessary to impose a sentence of death," the court's opinion read. "Accordingly, Davis is not entitled to a new penalty phase."

Davis is among the 43 death row inmates who filed direct appeals with the state's highest court after the U.S. Supreme Court found that the way Florida condemned people to die was unconstitutional because it allowed a judge to overrule a jury verdict and impose a death sentence. State legislators responded in March, rewriting the law to require at least a 10-2 death vote.

But last month, the state Supreme Court went a step further by requiring that juries must be unanimous in imposing the death penalty.

Contact Laura C. Morel at Follow @lauracmorel.