Clarck Paul murdered Lamont Smalls in cold blood, jurors agreed Thursday. He did it less than an hour after murdering another man, Carlos Senluis, on Aug. 5, 2018.
But he does not deserve to die, the jury decided.
The decision to spare Paul’s life came even after the state made it easier to condemn a killer to death in Florida than anywhere else in the country — Florida requires a majority of just eight jurors (out of 12) to recommend a death sentence.
That threshold was set by the Florida Legislature this year after juries rejected the death penalty in several high-profile cases in recent years. Before the Paul case, a Florida jury would have to recommend death unanimously in order to send an inmate to death row. The three men convicted of ambushing and murdering Broward Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Tephford were spared under that standard, as was Parkland gunman Nikolas Cruz, who murdered 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
Paul, 35, was the first convicted killer in Broward to test the new law, and the jury proved just as reluctant to condemn him to death. The defendant mouthed a silent “thank you” three times to the jury after the decision was read.
Prosecutor Stephen Zaccor said Paul killed Smalls in Lauderdale Lakes because he wanted to prevent Smalls, 22, from testifying against him in an attempted murder investigation. Senluis, 25, was shot to death in a road-rage incident in Pompano Beach shortly before Paul drove to Lauderdale Lakes to kill Smalls.
Both those factors could have been used to justify a death sentence. The jury, which in May had convicted Paul of Senluis’ murder, said prosecutors failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Paul was trying to silence Smalls.
It’s not clear that would have made a difference. The jury did not disclose the breakdown of its vote, but deliberations lasted only 15 minutes, making it unlikely there was a contingent in favor of the death penalty strong enough to put up much of an argument.
Defense lawyers Kaitlin Gonzalez, Lien Lafargue and Maury Halperin argued that Paul suffered from a variety of mental health conditions that precluded a death sentence as a just punishment.
The verdict leaves Broward Circuit Judge Martin Fein with no choice but to sentence Paul to life in prison for Smalls’ murder. The murder of Senluis carries a maximum sentence of life, and Paul was also convicted of several related charges.
Fein set sentencing for Oct. 20.
Rafael Olmeda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 954-356-4457.