After more than a decade on death row, convicted killer Steven Douglas Hayward will instead be given a life sentence when he returns to court Jan. 24.
Though prosecutors filed a notice of intent to seek the death penalty again for Hayward, Chief Assistant State Attorney Tom Bakkedahl said they will not follow through.
“We’re no longer seeking the death penalty, at the request of the victim’s family,” said Bakkedahl, of the 19th Judicial Circuit that includes the Treasure Coast and Okeechobee County.
Hayward is one of six death penalty cases from the Treasure Coast returning to court for a sentencing do-over after rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Florida Supreme Court invalidated death sentences that followed less-than-unanimous jury recommendations.
He was convicted and sentenced to death in June 2007 for robbing and shooting in the chest and thigh Daniel DeStefano, a 32-year-old Fort Pierce Tribune newspaper carrier. DeStefano was delivering newspapers to convenience stores along Avenue D in Fort Pierce about 4 a.m. Feb. 1, 2005.
Before DeStefano died a day after the shooting, he told a Fort Pierce police officer he had shot back at his attacker with a gun he carried. He had a concealed weapon permit.
Hayward was arrested a few days later. His blood was found on DeStefano’s faded blue jeans, where he had reached into the fallen man’s pockets to remove $10 in cash.
In the sentencing phase of Hayward’s trial, the jury voted 8-4 for a death sentence. The state’s new death penalty law, enacted in March, requires a jury to reach a unanimous decision in recommending death.
“We reached out to the family, and they were extremely distraught and upset about the Supreme Court ruling,” Bakkedahl said.
The family has been more than 12 years into the process, Bakkedahl said, and was expecting about another five years for when the death sentence would be executed.
“Recognizing that they would have to start that process all over again, they quite frankly just couldn’t handle it,” he said. “It was too much for them.”
Bakkedahl said he and State Attorney Bruce Colton decided to honor the wishes of DeStefano’s family.
“I don’t think I can put into words the emotions that they’re feeling,” Bakkedahl said.
So, Circuit Judge James McCann, who issued the original death sentence in 2007, will have no choice but to sentence Hayward to life in prison.
The DeStefano killing was Hayward’s second murder conviction. In February 1988, he fatally shot Sebien DeRoche outside a Fort Pierce bar. He pleaded no contest to second-degree murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, but was given early release after 16 years because of state laws in effect at the time.
Bakkedahl said notices of intent to seek the death penalty have been filed in each of the remaining five death penalty cases from the Treasure Coast that must have a sentencing do-over. But no decisions have been made on how prosecutors will proceed, he said.
“Each case is different,” Bakkedahl said. “The victims’ families in each case are going to take a different position.
“We will consult with the families in each of those, and then make a decision based on the facts, the new law and the family’s wishes.”
Had DiStefano’s family been adamant that they wanted to continue to pursue the death penalty, Bakkedahl said, “that’s exactly what we would have done.”
DeStefano’s family recognized they would have to go through this entire process, he said, and that one of two things would happen.
“The jury would recommend death, and then they would have to live with the incessant litigation over the next 17 years again,” Bakkedahl said, ”or two, the jury would not recommend death, and they would have gone through all of this for nothing.”
Bakkedahl said victims’ families are “completely left out of this equation” when courts rule on how the death penalty can be given.
“The system has treated them (DeStefano’s family) so poorly as a result of this ruling that they have no faith that they’d get justice in the form of the death penalty, and they would just rather not go through this process all over again,” he said.
More: New laws require Florida judges to resentence juvenile murderers who got life in prison
Florida judges are resentencing nearly 600 people convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison as teenagers. TCPalm compiled these local cases.
MELISSA E. HOLSMAN/TCPALM
Death penalty cases
Remaining death penalty cases on Treasure Coast bound for sentencing do-over because jury decisions were not unanimous:
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY
Paul Evans, 45, of Vero Beach
Crime: He was hired by Connie Pfeiffer to execute her estranged husband, Vero Beach resident Alan Pfeiffer, in a trailer near the Vero Beach Regional Airport on March 23, 1991. Connie Pfeiffer received life in prison.
Punishment: Evans was found guilty in the murder-for-hire plot and was sentenced to death. The sentence was overturned in 2011, but a year later a federal appeals court reinstated his capital punishment. In 1999, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death. In June, prosecutors put the court on notice the state intends to seek the death penalty again.
ST. LUCIE COUNTY
Richard Johnson, 40, of Port St. Lucie
Crime: Raped and murdered 35-year-old Vero Beach waitress Tammy Hagin and dumped her body in Savannas State Park in February 2001.
Punishment: In 2004, a jury convicted him of first-degree murder, kidnapping, sexual battery and theft and recommended execution voting 11-1. In June, prosecutors put the court on notice the state intends to seek the death penalty again.
Andrew Gosciminski, 64, of Fort Pierce
Crime: Bludgeoned, stabbed and cut to death 55-year-old Joan Loughman of Connecticut, who came to Fort Pierce to care for her ailing father in September 2002.
Punishment: He was convicted of murder in 2005 and again in 2009 and both times a jury voted 9-3 to recommend the death penalty.
Eriese Tisdale, 30, of Fort Pierce
Crime: On Feb. 28, 2013, Tisdale, then 25, was armed with a Glock handgun when he fired seven times at Sgt. Gary Morales, 35, during a traffic stop in Fort Pierce, killing the veteran sergeant nearly instantly.
Punishment: In October 2015, a jury voted 9-3 to recommend he be sentenced to death. His conviction and sentence has been appealed to the Florida Supreme Court and is pending. But because the jury vote was not unanimous, he’s expected to receive a new penalty phase, pending the outcome of his appeal.
J.B. “Pig” Parker, 55, of Fort Pierce
Crime: Stuart resident Frances Julia Slater, 18, was kidnapped from a convenience store and killed April 28, 1982. Her body was dumped on the side of the road after she had been stabbed and shot to death execution-style.
Punishment: Four men were convicted of Slater’s kidnapping and murder. Parker has been sentenced to death twice and remains on Death Row along with co-defendant Alphonso Cave. Co-defendant James Earl Bush was executed in 1996. In June, prosecutors put the court on notice the state intends to seek the death penalty again.
Staff writer Melissa E. Holsman contributed to this report.