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Polk County Jury Recommends Death Penalty in Fatal Drug Robbery

Last week, a jury in Polk County, Florida recommended that 30-year-old Robert McCloud be executed for the first-degree murders of Tamiqa Taylor and Dustin Freeman. Law enforcement says the deaths occurred during a drug-related home invasion in Poinciana in October 2009.

Far from a unanimous decision, the jury was split 8-4 in favor of the death penalty. McCloud was found guilty earlier in the week of two counts of first-degree murder and several other related charged. The trial judge will consider the jury's recommendation of execution and ultimately pronounce sentence. Substantial weight will be given the jury's recommendation.

Three co-defendants previously pleaded no contest to second-degree murder for reduced sentences, relating to the same incident. The three took plea deals for punishments ranging from 10 years to 15 years in prison.

Prosecutors say McCloud and four other men broke into a drug dealer's home in Poinciana during the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2009. Wilkins "Fang" Merilan was tortured and shot multiple times, but survived. Merilan's friends, Taylor and Freeman, were shot "execution-style" at close range in the backs of their heads. Merilan's 3-year-old daughter, Winter, wasn't shot.

The prosecutor argued that Taylor and Freeman were killed to eliminate them as witnesses - a fact which can be considered as a statutory aggravating factor to support a death sentence.

The fourth co-defendant Major Griffin, has been accused of shooting Merilan but failing to kill him. Griffin has been found mentally incompetent and will receive treatment to see whether he can become competent to stand trial.

Although prosecutors argued that McCloud fired the gun that killed Taylor and Freeman, he jury's guilty verdict appeared to differ in opinion. Jurors noted that McCloud possessed a gun during the robbery, but did not actually fire it.

Florida is one of the few states which does not require a jury's recommendation of execution to be unanimous. There is pending legislation to change this and many believe that it will be successfully challenged through the appellate process in the near future.

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