Category: A - Newsbreaks
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July 26--  The man who killed Toombs County teenager Courtney Wilkes two years ago in Florida is facing the death penalty and the next phase in the sentencing process will take place in August.

Judge Kelvin Wells will hold what's called a "Spencer Hearing" for Steven Cozzie August 21 in the Walton County Circuit Court in DeFuniak Springs.


The purpose of the "Spencer Hearing" is to ensure the reliability of the penalty and sentencing process in Florida. The hearing was named for Leonard Spencer, who was sentenced in 1989 to death after a jury found him guilty of two counts of first-degree murder and multiple counts of armed robbery.

In Spencer's case, the defense attorney went looking for the Judge and Prosecutor and found them in the Judge's chambers proofreading an order sentencing Spencer to death. The attorney, "voiced his concern that the Judge had drafted an order expressing his reasons and conclusions for imposing the death penalty prior to Spencer's counsel having an opportunity to be heard," according to the Appeals Court.

The Florida Supreme Court ultimately determined that a Trial Judge should not formulate his/her sentencing decision prior to giving the defendant an opportunity to be heard. They then established a procedure to be used in the sentencing phase, which included the Trial Judge holding a hearing to give the defendant and his or her counsel the opportunity to be heard and an opportunity to present any additional evidence - now called a "Spencer Hearing". The Prosecuting attorney will also have an opportunity to offer additional evidence in support of the death sentence.

After the hearing, Judge Wells will make the ultimate decison on the life or death of Cozzie.