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Opening statements begin in resentencing of man convicted of burying Jacksonville couple alive

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Opening arguments began in the resentencing of a man previously sent to death row for kidnapping, robbing, and murdering a Jacksonville elderly couple in 2005.

The sentence was tossed out after a Florida Supreme Court decision that death sentences had to be unanimous.

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The conviction for Alan Wade will stay the same, but jurors could change his punishment from a death sentence to life in prison.

Wade is one of four total co-defendants, including Michael Jackson and Tiffany Cole, who are also awaiting resentencing after previously getting the death sentence, and Blake Nixon, who took a plea deal and is serving a 45-year sentence.

Reggie Summer, 61, and Carol Sumner, 61, were bound by duct tape, driven up to Charlton County, Georgia, and buried alive.

Day One

The day started with opening arguments from Alan Mizrahi from the state, who is arguing that Wade deserves the death sentence.

Two days before the July 2005 murder, the defendants drove to Georgia with shovels and dug deep graves in the woods.

“They dug that grave at night for the purpose of murdering Reggie Sumner,” he said.

He added that Wade used duct tape to bound Sumner, collected bank info and social security numbers, placed him in the trunk of his Lincoln Towncar, and drove him up to Southern Georgia.

“This defendant covered up Reggie Sumner while he was breathing. If that act isn’t evil enough for you, Reggie Sumner was a severe diabetic. He was very, very weak,” Mizrahi said.

“While Reggie Sumner was physically very weak, his mind was very sharp. He was conscious to know all the pitiless, vile, evil acts that were happening to him were happening to his wife.”

Carol Sumner was also bound and buried alive. The 61-year-old had liver cancer.

The state has to prove the aggravating factors of the case beyond a reasonable doubt, which include:

  1. The defendant was previously convicted of other violent acts
  2. Kidnapping occurred before the murder
  3. The defendants did not kill the victims quickly
  4. The defendants were motivated by money
  5. Heightened premeditation
  6. It was a heinous, atrocious, and cruel act
  7. Both victims were especially vulnerable

“Do these acts [Wade] consciously did deserve a greater punishment? Your individual and collective assessment will define what justice is for what this defendant did to Carol and Reggie Sumner,” Mizrahi said. “The state is asking you to choose the death penalty.”

The jury also heard from Special Agent David Meacham, the lead investigator on the case.

The next witness was the medical examiner, Dr. Anthony Clark, who performed an autopsy on the Sumners.

“The weight of the dirt is going to start taking away the ability to take deep breaths... the dirt will go in the airways and aggravate the airways... It’s going to be a smothering-to-death,” Dr. Clark told the jury while explaining what the autopsy showed about the way the Sumners died.

The jury also heard the transcript from Rhonda Alford, Carol Sumner’s daughter, who reported the couple missing days after the murder. Alford was not present, but a prosecutor read the transcript from the original trial.

The first day ended as co-defendant Bruce Nixon took the stand, which is when drama in the courtroom began.

Mizrahi asked Nixon if he knew why they were digging a hole in Georgia two days before the murder. Nixon previously testified that he knew why. In court Thursday, he said he didn’t.

“I’m trying to tell the truth. I was 18 at the time this happened,” he said.

At this point, Mizrahi asked for a recess and the jury left the courtroom because of the risk of perjury.

Judge Michael Weatherby said Nixon risked perjury by giving inconsistent testimony, and he has previously testified at least three separate times.

The judge ordered Nixon to leave the courtroom before cross-examination from the defense, which caused disagreement from defense attorney Blake Johnson. He motioned for a mistrial, but Weatherby declined.

Counsel and the Judge will discuss administrative matters and how to move forward while court is in recess until Monday. We expect the state to have victim impact statements. It’s unclear if Nixon will be called back to the stand for cross-examination.

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