Florida man sentenced to death for killing police officer

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A judge on Thursday sentenced a Florida man to death for fatally shooting an Orlando police officer while he was on the run for killing his pregnant ex-girlfriend.

Jurors in November found Markeith Loyd, 46, guilty in the January 2017 death of Lt. Debra Clayton, and unanimously recommended a death sentence during a hearing in December. Circuit Judge Leticia Marques announced her decision during a brief hearing Thursday morning.

Loyd is already serving a life sentence for killing Sade Dixon, his former girlfriend, a month before Clayton was killed.

Loyd was on the run for killing Dixon when a shopper at a Walmart spotted him Jan. 9, 2017. Prosecutors said the shopper notified Clayton, who was also at the store, and she attempted to stop him. Clayton, 42, was killed during a shootout with Loyd outside the store.

“Although nothing can undo the heartache created by the defendant’s heinous actions, we hope that this brings solace to our community, knowing a dangerous murderer will face the highest penalty provided by the law,” Orlando police Chief Orlando Rolón said in a statement.

During the trial, prosecutors said the fatal shot was fired as Loyd stood over Clayton in the parking lot. She was shot four times.

She was a sergeant at the time of the shooting, but was promoted posthumously.

During multiple hearings since the shooting, Loyd claimed he fired at Clayton in self-defense. His attorneys said he was insane at the time after becoming convinced the police were trying to kill him.

His mental health has been a key issue since his arrest, with the judge finally ruling last week that he was competent to continue with the sentencing hearing.

Clinical psychologist Xavier Amador testified that Loyd suffers from the delusional belief he is a “slave” whom his “slave masters” — the judge and prosecutors — are intent on killing, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Another psychiatrist, Jeffrey Danziger, testified that Loyd can’t effectively work with his defense team.

Loyd also claimed he was acting in self-defense when he shot Dixon and her brother, who was injured, a month before Clayton was killed.

The defense team also said Loyd suffered brain damage when officers beat and kicked him in the face as he crawled from under a home where he'd been hiding during a massive weeklong manhunt after Clayton was killed. Loyd lost his eye in the beating and the officers were later cleared of any wrongdoing.

Another wrinkle in the case came in 2019 when then- Florida Gov. Rick Scott reassigned the case from then-State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she sparked outrage in the law enforcement community by saying she would not seek the death penalty against Loyd.

Ayala said at the time that capital punishment had been unevenly applied, was not a deterrent for serious crimes and that she would not seek it in any case — a stance she had not publicly expressed during her campaign for the position.

Ayala announced Wednesday that she is running for Florida attorney general as a Democrat.

The Loyd case has been winding its way through the court system for years, with Loyd sometimes representing himself and lashing out in the courtroom.

“All these families have suffered. Debra Clayton’s family has suffered. Sade Dixon’s family has suffered. All because of the evil actions of Markeith Loyd,” Orange County Sheriff Mina told reporters outside the courthouse. “... And now it’s time for Markeith Loyd to suffer.”

Quincy Morris, a cousin of Clayton, told WKMG the outcome is what God “wanted it to be.”

“Now she can rest in peace,” Morris added.