Death sentence overturned in 1994 Jacksonville murder, man to be sentenced again

Eighteen years after a Jacksonville man was sentenced to death for a murder he committed as a teen-ager, the Florida Supreme Court has overturned his death sentence. The court ordered that Michael Shellito be sentenced at an upcoming hearing that has yet to be scheduled, according to a report in the Florida Times-Union. Shellito was convicted of first-degree murder, a crime for that there are only two possible sentences in Florida: life in prison or the death penalty.

Shellito was convicted in 1995, a year after he stopped a man who was walking down a Jacksonville street and demanded money from him, the newspaper reported. Once he determined the man had no money, Shellito shot and killed him, the newspaper reported. Shellito, 18 at the time, reportedly bragged about the murder and, when police went to take him into custody, Shellito pointed a gun at officers and was shot, the newspaper reported. Shellito appealed the convicted and sentence on several grounds, the newspaper reported. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction, but did find there were elements of mental illness that could have been presented as mitigation in the sentencing phase that may have led the judge to sentence Shellito to life instead of death.

In Jacksonville Murder Cases such as Shellito’s where the state is seeking the death penalty, there are two phases to the court proceedings: the trial and the penalty phase. Obviously, if the jury finds the person not guilty – or guilty of a lesser charge like second-degree murder where the death penalty does not apply – then the penalty phase is not needed. A potential death sentence is the only type of sentence a jury has a role in. If the verdict is indeed first-degree murder, the jurors will then hear a whole separate set of evidence and testimony. The defense will bring what is called “mitigation,” essentially a history of the defendant’s life showing the reasons his or her life should be spared by the criminal justice system. If there is a history of mental illness, for example, that would be one of the items discussed in the penalty phase of a Jacksonville Murder Case. The courts often provide deference to the defendant in death penalty cases, simply because the stakes are so high. This frustration among some led the Florida Legislature to pass a bill this year that specifies timetables for when a person must be executed once the appeals are exhausted. It’s unclear if the state will pursue an entirely new penalty phase in this Jacksonville Murder Case, or just concede the life sentence and move on. After all, the Supreme Court has spoken in this case.

If you or a loved one needs a criminal defense attorney in Jacksonville or the surrounding area, call The Mussallem Law Firm at (904) 365-5200 for a FREE CONSULTATION. Our Jacksonville Murder Attorney, Victoria “Tori” Mussallem, is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.