Here’s what you need to know about the death penalty in Florida

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Markeith Loyd was found guilty of murdering off-duty Orlando police officer Debra Clayton, a verdict that surprised almost no one following the Central Florida case since it began in 2017.

Now, the same 12 men and women will decide if his actions and disregard for someone’s life warrants punishment as severe as the death penalty.

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If convicted, Loyd will join hundreds of men and three women on Florida’s death row. What will happen this weekend, and how often does Florida sentence someone to die? We’ve collected a few answers below:

How often is the death penalty imposed?

Florida has sentenced 899 people to die — at least, in cases that are known, according to the Death Penalty Information Center based in Washington, D.C. The first known case was in 1827, when Benjamin Donica was hanged for murder.

The death penalty was briefly ruled unconstitutional in the 1970s before resuming. It reached a peak in the 1980s, when more than 40 people were sentenced to death in Florida during some years. Use of the death penalty has declined to less than 10 people per year. As of this writing, the center reports there are 343 people on Florida’s death row.

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Why is the death penalty declining?

Two factors contribute to its decline: societal changes and cost.

An increasing number of states have outlawed the death penalty, mostly in areas of the country that lean Democratic. While Florida has the death penalty, the families of victims often find it less than they’d hoped for.

“We’ve realized that the death penalty is very inefficient,” attorney Richard Hornsby explained. “There’s any number of appeals; it prolongs the cases, a lot of times by the time people are actually sentenced to death they’re either so old (or) so sick that I guess there was almost no justice.”

LIVE UPDATES: Jury finds Markeith Loyd guilty of murdering Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton

The prolonging of cases, with appeals, jury selections and more, means more taxpayer dollars. Studies have found Florida spends tens of millions of extra dollars per year imposing and overseeing death penalty cases, compared to if everyone was simply sentenced to life in prison.

Who will decide if Loyd is sentenced to death?

The same jury that decided that he was guilty. Jurors are isolating in their hotel until Saturday, when the next phase of the trial begins.

Attorneys for both sides will debate aggravating and mitigating factors that will help or hurt the prosecution’s case for death.

READ: ‘A step toward justice’: Central Florida reacts to guilty verdict in Markeith Loyd’s murder trial

Then, the 12 jurors will have to come to a unanimous decision if they choose to sentence Loyd to die. Florida changed its laws to require unanimity in 2017. Before, all the state needed was a majority. Hornsby said Orange County could provide a favorable environment for Loyd to find one or more hesitant jurors.

Since the change, only one man has been sentenced to death in Central Florida: Larry Perry, who beat his 2-month-old child to death because the child wouldn’t stop crying. Perry was found guilty in 2017.

Even if the jury is unanimous, a judge can overrule them. If the jury chooses life, that cannot happen. All death penalty cases are automatically appealed.

READ: Who was Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton?

How likely is it that Loyd will be given the death sentence?

No one has a crystal ball. It’s entirely up to the jury, which has been sequestered since the start of the trial.

Hornsby said he’s confident the jury will opt for the death penalty, given the fact Loyd has multiple previous felony convictions and Clayton was a police officer.

“There is the occasional case, it just seems to scream for the death penalty,” he said. “If there is a particular case, I think it’s this one.”

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What happens next?

Loyd is bound for maximum security prison either way, since he’s already serving life in prison for killing his girlfriend. However, Hornsby said death row inmates get fewer creature comforts than the general population.

It could take years for the sentence to be carried out, if ever. Like many other states, Florida prefers lethal injection. Companies that manufacture the combination of drugs needed have made it difficult for states to purchase them. No death penalty sentences have been carried out in the state since 2019.

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