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Guilty Plea in St. Petersburg First-Degree Murder Case Without Plea Agreement

In a relatively unusual situation, Khadafy Mullens pleaded guilty this week to two charges of first-degree murder. The plea appears to have been made without any sort of plea agreement with the prosecution. A judge will now decide whether Mullens should be sentenced to life in prison without parole or to death.

Mullens admitted he killed a St. Petersburg convenience store owner and a customer in 2008. He also admitted that he attempted to kill another customer. The shootings were all captured on high-quality surveillance video.

Mullens' co-defendant Spencer Peeples still awaits trial.

According to court documents, two men walked into Mohammad Uddin's convenience store, one of them waving a handgun. The men demanded Uddin's car keys and stole lottery tickets. Prosecutors have said that Mullens shot Uddin after he saw him dialing a telephone. Next, he grabbed store customer Ronald Hayworth and shot him. Another customer, Albert Barton, was about to enter the store when one of the two robbers pulled him inside and shot him. Barton survived the shooting.

Due to the emotional impact the video might have on a jury, Mullens and his criminal defense attorney may believe that he has a better chance of avoiding the death penalty by bypassing a jury of 12 ordinary citizens. Normally in a death penalty case, if a guilty verdict has been returned, a jury then listens to evidence and recommends whether the defendant should die for his crimes. The final determination of sentence is always made by a judge but great weight must be given to the recommendation of a jury.

There will be no trial but there will be a sentencing hearing before the judge that could last for several days. Prosecutors have indicated that they still intend to argue for execution.

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