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Death Sentences Vacated In Double Murder

Florida Supreme Court
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

In one in a series of similar rulings this year, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered a new sentencing proceeding for a Death Row inmate convicted of killing his former girlfriend and a man in 2007 in Flagler County.

Justices upheld the first-degree murder convictions of William Gregory in the deaths of Skyler Dawn Meekins and Daniel Arthur Dyer. The pair was fatally shot with a shotgun while they slept together at Meekins' home.

A circuit judge sentenced Gregory to death after a jury recommended by 7-5 votes that he face the death penalty. But the Florida Supreme Court, in a 5-2 opinion Thursday, vacated Gregory's sentences because of a 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case known as Hurst v. Florida and a subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision. The 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling found Florida's death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it gave too much authority to judges, instead of juries.

The subsequent Florida Supreme Court decision said juries must unanimously agree on critical findings before judges can impose death sentences and must unanimously recommend the death penalty.

The majority opinion Thursday said Gregory's death sentences did not meet those requirements.

“In Gregory's case, we conclude that the state cannot establish that the Hurst error was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt,” Thursday's ruling said. “Here, the jury neither unanimously made the requisite factual findings nor unanimously recommended a sentence of death. Instead, the jury recommended both of Gregory's death sentences by a vote of 7 to 5.”