NEW PORT RICHEY — The 12 men and women on Adam Matos' jury were chosen from a pool of nearly 300 people in part for their responses to a single question: Could you condemn a stranger to death for a crime?
On Tuesday, they said "no" four times, recommending that Adam Matos instead serve life in prison for the brutal 2014 slayings of his ex-girlfriend, her parents and her new boyfriend.
It was far from a resounding "no." Ten jurors wanted Matos to be executed for the deaths of ex-girlfriend Megan Brown, her father, Gregory Brown, and her boyfriend Nick Leonard. And 11 jurors wanted Matos executed for the beating of Megan Brown's mother, Margaret Brown, who was bludgeoned repeatedly in the head with a hammer.
But a unanimous vote is required for a death sentence under Florida law.
When the jury left, the rage of the living filled the room.
"In my nightmares, I see him trembling and shaking to find and load his rifles, his hands shaking so much he's hardly able to get a shell into his gun to defend his family," said Gregory Brown's younger brother, Richard Brown. "To this day I can feel the helplessness and shock as the murders were unfolding in front of them."
He talked about the Brown family: Margaret, who had worked hard on the farm and was ready to spend time with her grandson. Gregory, with the softest heart of all.
He pounded on the lectern as he described the hammer blows that had taken his sister-in-law and Leonard from them.
The guilty verdicts came after three weeks of testimony, nearly 700 pieces of evidence and Matos' own confessions, including that he had committed the murders while his 4-year-old autistic son slept in another room.
The jurors took less than three hours to convict when the trial concluded Thursday. The minimum punishment state law allows for such a crime is life in prison without the possibility of parole.
After calling 13 friends and family members to testify in yesterday's sentencing hearing, Matos' defense attorney William Pura pointed to Matos, sitting stoically in an orange and white striped prison uniform, while addressing the jury one last time before deliberations Tuesday morning.
"Ladies and gentlemen, these are the clothes Adam Matos will wear for the rest of his life," Pura said. "He will be told what to eat and when to eat. He will be watched when he goes to the restroom or takes a shower. The only time he won't be watched is when he dies, and its up to you to determine if the moment of his death will be from a call from a higher being or from a call from our government."
Pura read passages from William Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice describing those who show mercy as "twice blessed." He reminded them what Jesus Christ promised in his Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy." He implored them to invoke the spirit of the "holiday season," and show mercy to a father whose actions were driven by instinct when faced with the possibility he could lose his son.
"Has there ever been a stronger bond than that between parent and child?" Pura asked the jury. "Is there anythign a prent would not do to save a child? Is there anythign more despairing to a parent than the prospect of losing a child? Can a parent ever be put in a more dire situation thatn that in which he believes he could have that child taken away from him?"
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Contact Anastasia Dawson at [email protected] Follow @adawsonwrites