A Titusville man whose death sentence was vacated in the fatal shooting of a man, a mother and her 5-year-old daughter, will not face a new death penalty trial, the Brevard County state attorney’s office announced.
The decision came after prosecutors weighed the impact of a 2017 Supreme Court ruling on the legality of non-unanimous jury death penalty recommendations along with other changes to the laws governing capital punishment.
Justin Heyne, 36, of Titusville, charges: Order to transport.
Justin Heyne was convicted during a 2012 trial for the shooting deaths of Sarah Buckoski, 24, her boyfriend, Benjamin Hamilton, 26, and 5-year-old daughter, Ivory, on March 30, 2006. He had been living with them.
During Heyne’s trial, his lawyers said he fatally shot Hamilton, his best friend, and Buckoski in self-defense, but accidentally killed Ivory when she ran into the midst of “an argument that just went horribly wrong,” court records show.
The high court upheld Heyne’s three murder convictions but ordered him to undergo a new sentencing phase because the jury that recommended his execution didn’t reach the decision with a unanimous vote.
“I firmly believe these brutal and senseless murders, especially that of Ivory Hamilton, a child who posed absolutely no threat to Heyne, still warrant seeking imposition of the death penalty,” State Attorney Phil Archer said in a statement tweeted out Thursday.
Hamilton was unarmed and in bed when Heyne shot him in the head. He shot Buckoski as she cowered in a corner on the floor, and walked over to Ivory where he slapped her before also firing a bullet into her skull, prosecutors said. The trial jury recommended Heyne get life in prison for Hamilton’s murder, and voted 8-4 for the death penalty in Buckoski’s death and 10-2 in favor of execution for the child’s killing.
Records show Circuit Judge O.H. Eaton followed the jury’s recommendation in Hamilton and Ivory’s killings, but went against the panel’s recommendation in sentencing Heyne to life in prison without possibility of parole for Buckoski’s murder.
“While the surviving family members were divided as to seeking the death penalty at the first trial, they are unified in asking that our office not proceed with a new sentencing hearing. I gave great weight to their expressed concerns over the uncertain outcome, combined with having to again witness graphic and disturbing evidence of their loved one’s final moments, in making this difficult decision.”
The mother of one of the victims had pleaded with prosecutors at the time not to pursue the death penalty in the case. But the state attorney’s office continued with its plans to seek the death penalty after consulting with other relatives.
A new court hearing will be set for Heyne to be sentenced to life in prison.