Florida Supreme Court upholds death penalty in Orlando officer’s killing

Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

ORLANDO, Fla. — Markeith Loyd’s death sentence for the murder of an Orlando police officer in 2017 was upheld Thursday by the Florida Supreme Court, though with a caveat that the prosecution “abused its discretion” during his sentencing.

Loyd appealed his conviction and sentence for shooting Lieutenant Debra Clayton in a Walmart parking lot, nearly a month after killing his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon.

In his appeal, Loyd made 13 challenges, from questioning decisions to exclude certain jurors to arguing he was inappropriately determined to be competent to proceed with the trial. He also urged the court to declare the death penalty unconstitutional, which the court declined to do, citing its own precedent and prior decisions by the U.S. Supreme Court.

All but one of Loyd’s arguments were rejected by justices. They did agree it was inappropriate for prosecutors to offer in court a slideshow presentation featuring photographs and video of Clayton over instrumental music, an objection to which was overruled at trial. But they said including the music in the presentation “does not automatically justify reversal.”

“We find that the trial court abused its discretion in allowing the music to play, but that error was harmless,” the Supreme Court’s decision read.

On Jan. 9, 2017, Clayton, a 17-year veteran at the Orlando Police Department, was flagged by a customer at a Walmart on Princeton Street who spotted Loyd at the checkout line. Loyd had been on the run after he shot Dixon to death Dec. 13. Clayton was shot several times upon confronting him, with the fatal shot delivered to the neck as Loyd stood over her.

A second officer, Orange County Deputy First Class Norm Lewis, was killed in a traffic collision during the manhunt for Loyd, who was captured nine days after Clayton died.

Clayton, known in the community for her volunteer service including in several mentorship programs, was posthumously promoted to master sergeant.