Crime

Once sent to Death Row, Miami killer of five gets new sentencing hearing

Tavares Calloway, right, pictured here during a court hearing in 2008, was convicted of killing five people in a Miami drug rip off and sentenced to death. He was granted a new sentencing hearing Thursday after a decision by the Florida Supreme Court.
Tavares Calloway, right, pictured here during a court hearing in 2008, was convicted of killing five people in a Miami drug rip off and sentenced to death. He was granted a new sentencing hearing Thursday after a decision by the Florida Supreme Court. Miami Herald

Tavares Calloway, the Miami man sent to Death Row for the murder of five people during a 1997 drug robbery, is getting a new sentencing hearing.

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ordered that Calloway — who was sentenced to execution after a jury recommendation vote of 7-5 — deserved a chance at a new sentence under recent high-court rulings that now require jurors to make a unanimous decision on the death penalty.

Calloway’s new sentencing hearing was not a surprise. Most Death Row inmates from the past two decades will likely get a new sentence because of the recent changes in capital case law.

The Florida Supreme Court, in an 84-page opinion, did uphold his guilty conviction for the five murders.

Miami-Dade prosecutors said that Calloway and another man seeking drugs and money stormed a Liberty City apartment in January 1997. They hogtied five men, taped their mouths shut and removed their pants. After debating whom to leave alive, Calloway methodically shot each in the head, evidence showed.

In July 2009, Miami-Dade jurors convicted Calloway, 38, on five counts of first-degree murder. By a 7-5 vote, they recommended death as punishment and a judge later agreed, sending Calloway to Death Row.

Hurst’s appeal was still ongoing in January 2016 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Florida’s sentencing scheme was unconstitutional. The reason: judges, not juries, were the ones empowered to sentence someone to die; the court ruled this to be a violation of a defendant’s right to a jury trial.

Florida lawmakers responded by rewriting the state law, replacing the judge's override and requiring a vote of at least 10 of 12 jurors to sentence someone to death.

But the Florida Supreme Court later ruled that the new law was unconstitutional because jury verdicts need to be unanimous. In December, the court ruled that the Hurst decision will apply to most cases completed after 2002, meaning up to 200 inmates – including Calloway – are entitled to new sentence.

If prosecutors again seek the death penalty against Calloway, a new jury would have to selected to hear evidence in the case.

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