Markeith Loyd seeks murder trial delay due to COVID-19 pandemic

Loyd scheduled to go on trial Oct. 8 for the murder of Orlando Police Lt. Debra Clayton

ORLANDO, Fla. – The man accused of gunning down Orlando Police Lieutenant Debra Clayton is asking a judge to delay his trial, which is scheduled to start later this week, due to concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic will limit turnout for the jury pool.

Markeith Loyd could face the death penalty if convicted of the police officer’s murder. He is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and their unborn child.

Loyd’s attorney has filed a motion seeking to delay the trial until COVID-19 risks are at an “acceptable” level.

“The defense asserts that proceeding to trial in October will result in a non-representative jury for a variety of reasons related to the ongoing effects of the worst global pandemic since 1918,” wrote Terence Lenamon, Loyd’s court-appointed attorney.

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Lenamon argues that elderly and disabled citizens who are at risk of contracting the virus will likely be excused from jury service.

The attorney also cited a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study suggesting some ethnic groups are disproportionally affected by the pandemic.

“Black and Latino people are more than twice as likely as their white counterparts to contract COVID-19,” wrote Lenamon, who also cited a study suggesting men are more likely than women to contract COVID-19 and be excused from a jury.

Although Loyd’s attorney could not find research suggesting a juror’s political views might play a role in how they reach a verdict in a criminal trial, he claims political beliefs could be tied to jury selection availability.

“Republicans remain far less likely than Democrats to view COVID-19 as a major threat to public health,” wrote Lenamon.

In his motion, Loyd’s attorney says only 50% of summoned jurors show up for jury service and that “the ones who do show up are likely to be people who do not think that COVID-19 presents a real risk to anyone and are therefore more likely to put everyone else at risk of contagion.”

Orange County court administrators tell News 6 that 50% of summoned jurors typically appear for jury duty, including before the pandemic began, with 56% appearing in court Monday.

Prosecutors have not yet responded to Loyd’s request for a trial delay.

“Although the constitution gives a defendant a right to a fair trial, the jury may very well hold it against Mr. Loyd that he has insisted on such during a time of a pandemic — where jurors increase their chances of exposure by leaving their homes,” Lenamon wrote.

Loyd is one of only a few Floridians to face a death penalty trial during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As noted by the Death Penalty Information Center, a Polk County jury recommended the death penalty for Andre Maurice Warner in June, but the judge has not yet sentenced the defendant.

In March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic began impacting court proceedings, a different jury convicted Warner of murdering a man during a home invasion robbery.

Russell Tillis was convicted by a Jacksonville area jury in April of killing and dismembering a woman, but the jury did not unanimously recommend the death penalty. Tillis was later sentenced to life in prison.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.