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Florida Bank Massacre Sentencing Trial Begins For Zephen Xaver

This Jan. 23, 2019, booking photo released by the Highlands County Sheriff's Office shows Zephen Xaver. Jury selection starts Monday in the penalty trial of 27-year-old Xaver, who pleaded guilt

Zephen Xaver, a former prison guard trainee, is facing a sentencing trial after pleading guilty to five counts of first-degree murder for a 2019 massacre at a central Florida bank. The incident, which took place at the SunTrust Bank in Sebring, resulted in the tragic deaths of five women.

The victims included Cynthia Watson, Marisol Lopez, Ana Pinon-Williams, Debra Cook, and Jessica Montague, all of whom were mothers and loved ones to their families. The trial, set to determine Xaver's sentence, is expected to last about two months with opening statements scheduled in two weeks.

Despite numerous delays due to the pandemic, legal issues, and attorney illness, jury selection for the sentencing trial is set to begin soon. The prosecution is likely to argue for the death penalty, citing the cold, cruel, and planned nature of the killings, while the defense may emphasize Xaver's mental health problems in seeking leniency.

Under a new Florida law, a jury vote of 8-4 for execution is now sufficient for the death penalty, a change made following a previous case where a unanimous vote was not reached. Xaver, who had a history of mental health issues and concerning behavior, legally purchased a handgun and bullets the day before the murders.

The tragic event unfolded as Xaver entered the bank, armed and wearing a bullet-resistant vest. After a brief exchange with Lopez, he proceeded to order the women against the wall before instructing them to lie face down on the floor. Within minutes, he fatally shot the victims before calling the police and ultimately surrendering.

The aftermath of the shooting led to the demolition of the bank, which has since been replaced by a memorial park in honor of the victims. The upcoming trial will provide further insight into the events of that fateful day and the factors leading to the tragic loss of life.

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