Jurors on Monday rejected the death penalty for a Miami man who murdered a jogger and a security guard in two separate robberies.
Instead, Kendrick Silver, 29, will serve life in prison after the jury could not agree unanimously to send him to Death Row. Silver’s case was the first death-penalty case in Miami to go to a sentencing hearing since Florida moved to require juries to agree unanimously on execution as a punishment for first-degree murder.
“We know the deliberations must have been very hard fought,” said Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Steven Yermish. “Kenny and all the lawyers are grateful that they came to right decision.”
Silver was sentenced for the killing of 62-year-old Solmeus Accimeus, a security guard who was shot at point-blank range outside a North Miami-Dade restaurant in December 2006. He’d previously been convicted for murdering a jogger in Coral Gables. Both cases were robberies.
The jury deliberated more than three hours. Jurors ruled that Miami-Dade prosecutors proved the “aggravating factors” — that Silver had committed an earlier murder, and tried to rob Accimeus. But, nonetheless, jurors decided against imposing execution.
Under Florida’s new death-penalty law, jurors did not have to reveal their votes for the life sentence. At least one juror looked upset — and suggested he did not agree with the verdict when polled by the clerk.
For decades, Florida prosecutors needed only a majority seven votes for a death-penalty recommendation, with the judge meting out the punishment. Then in 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s sentencing scheme was unconstitutional because defendants have a right to a trial by jury.
State lawmakers rewrote the law, replacing the judge’s override and requiring at least 10 of 12 jurors to sentence someone to death.
Death-penalty cases went into limbo as more legal fights ensued.
The Florida Supreme Court then ruled that the new law was unconstitutional, saying juries needed to be unanimous in imposing the ultimate punishment. In March, lawmakers passed a new law requiring jurors to unanimously agree on a death sentence.
Since then, a handful of killers formerly on Death Row have been re-sentenced to life in prison under plea deals.
Silver had already escaped the death penalty once before.
Two years ago, Silver was convicted of the 2007 murder of Coral Gables jogger Jose Marchese-Berrios, who was shot in the chest on Salzedo Street before staggering home and dying in the arms of his teenage son. Silver admitted to stealing the man’s flip-top phone and giving it to his girlfriend.
The jury, under the old law, rejected the death penalty and sentenced him to life in prison.
A second jury earlier this year convicted Silver for the December 2006 murder of Accimeus, a security guard shot dead as he sat in his car at closing time outside Esther’s Restaurant in North Miami-Dade.
The same 12 jurors reconvened this month to hear reasons why Silver should or shouldn’t be put to death.
Defense lawyers depicted Silver’s childhood as wracked by an unstable mother, abuse and poverty. He also turned his life around in jail, they said, even speaking to at-risk teens visiting the jails.
“They want to paint him as a monster. His crimes were monstrous. He is not a monster,” Miami-Dade Assistant Public Defender Alvarez told jurors. “He’s a damaged kid.”
The effect of the new law forcing jurors to be unanimous if they are to impose death was clear.
“You can be merciful,” Alvarez said. “Justice does not have to equal death. Each one of you can speak the language of compassion.”
Miami-Dade prosecutors, however, said Silver’s earlier murder conviction during the robbery of the jogger — as well as the attempted robbery of the security guard — were more than enough to justify execution.
“Poverty does not explain murder,” Assistant State Attorney Gail Levine said. “A dysfunctional family does not explain murder.”
She added: “I submit to you, the defendant does not deserve your mercy. A life sentence is not enough. It’s not enough for him.”
Jurors agreed for mercy.