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One Of Four Convicted Of Burying Florida Couple Alive Resentenced To Life
Alan Wade was sentenced to death after he and three others were convicting of kidnapping a vulnerable couple and burying them alive in 2005. He was granted a re-sentencing trial by the Florida Supreme Court and will now spend life in prison instead.
A Florida man once sentenced to die by execution will instead spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole following a new re-sentencing trial.
Alan Wade, 35, was one of four people convicted of brutally killing a vulnerable couple back in 2005, according to News 4 Jax. For his role in the crime, Wade was sentenced to death — but a landmark 2016 decision by the Florida Supreme Court, Hurst v. State, found that a capital sentencing jury must vote unanimously, which had not been the case in Wade’s 2008 sentencing. Then, jurors voted 11 to one in favor of the death penalty.
In a dramatic reversal in 2020's State v. Poole, however, the Florida Supreme Court said they “got it wrong” when they made the 2016 decision, and that non-unanimous votes for the death penalty did not violate the defendant’s constitutional rights. Although the decision in favor of unanimity in death sentences was overturned, the new ruling had “limited reach” — meaning that it would not retroactively rescind the re-sentencing orders granted to more than 100 death row inmates in Florida, including Wade’s.
And an ew sentencing jury would still have to unanimously decide whether or not Wade deserved the death penalty.
Wade’s resentencing trial began on June 9 and ended Thursday with jurors recommending that Wade be sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. That decision was approved by a judge after three and a half hours of deliberation, according to First Coast News.
Wade’s defense attorney, Blake Johnson, told jurors that his client took part in kidnapping and killing Carol and Reggie Sumner, both 61, just 47 days after his 18th birthday.
“No matter what your decision is, after your decision, Alan Wade will die in prison and will leave in a coffin,” said Blake, according to First Coast News. He also noted that his client would not have been eligible for the death penalty if he'd taken part in the crime while still a juvenile. "Why?" he asked rhetorically. "The adolescent brain is different.”
In 2005, Wade — along with co-defendants Michael Jackson, Tiffany Cole, and Bruce Nixon — dug a hole just over the Georgia state line with plans to rob a then-undecided person or persons, kill the victims and bury their bodies. The group settled on the Sumners, a couple with whom Cole and Jackson were acquainted.
Court records stated that “the Sumners were chosen as victims because of their vulnerability and the belief that they had considerable financial resources.”
At the time of their deaths, Carol and Reggie were in ailing health. Carol was battling liver cancer, while Reggie lived with severe diabetes and had been placed in a cast after fracturing his ankle, according to Law & Crime. Reggie was sometimes dependent on a wheelchair and struggled with incontinence.
On July 8, 2005 — days after the four suspects decided on the Sumners as their victims — Wade, Jackson, Cole and Nixon went to the Sumners’ Jacksonville home, where they bound the frail couple with duct tape under the threat of a toy gun. They then put the couple in the trunk of their own Lincoln Town Car. Carol and Reggie held one another there, once they wriggled free of their restraints.
Ultimately, the Sumners were buried alive in the pre-dug grave, despite Reggie telling his killer the couple's PINs and other information to access his bank accounts. The suspects abandoned the couple's Lincoln with the shovels still in the trunk and used Reggie’s ATM card to steal the victims’ money.
Authorities were flagged after the bank noticed the unusual amount of cash withdrawals from the missing couple’s accounts, ultimately leading them to the suspects.
Nixon led authorities to Carol and Reggie’s bodies on July 15, 2005, according to court records. Overwhelming evidence linked the suspects to the crime scene, including their fingerprints on the duct tape and the victims’ household items.
Wade was found guilty on two counts each of first-degree murder, kidnapping and robbery, according to the Florida Department of Corrections.
During the resentencing trial — which didn’t task jurors with deciding Wade’s guilt — Prosecutor Alan Mizrahi argued that Wade’s “evil” acts did, in fact, warrant the death penalty, according to First Coast News.
“Carol and Reggie Sumner are now in a grave, but in July 2005, they were not put in a grave,” said Mizrahi. “They were put in a death chamber. A hole. A pit in Southern Georgia, which was this defendant’s murder weapon.”
Wade’s defense, on the other hand, cited Wade’s abusive childhood, on which Mizrahi also touched during resentencing.
“While the defense paid for experts saying he’s afraid of the dark… he is putting shovel after shovel of dirt over two human beings,” Mizrahi stated. “Under cover of darkness, he buried two disabled people in the dark forever.”
Carol and Reggie Sumner reportedly met in high school and rekindled their relationship later in life, according to Law & Crime.
“These two lovers, who finally found each other, were aware that the exact same thing that was happening to them was happening to the person they loved most in the world,” said Mizrahi.
At sentencing, jurors agreed that though Wade’s crimes were “cold, calculated, and premeditated,” they did not fit the standard of being “heinous, atrocious, and cruel,” therefore recommending life in prison over the death penalty.
Tiffany Cole and Michael Jackson remain on death row for their roles in the double-murder, but are both also awaiting resentencing due to the Florida Supreme Court's 2016 decision, according to First Coast News.
Bruce Nixon is serving a 45-year sentence for his cooperation with the prosecution.