Jackson v. State, No. SC07-2008.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Florida
Writing for the CourtPer Curiam
Citation18 So.3d 1016
Docket NumberNo. SC07-2008.
Decision Date24 September 2009
PartiesMichael James JACKSON, Appellant, v. STATE of Florida, Appellee.
18 So.3d 1016
Michael James JACKSON, Appellant,
STATE of Florida, Appellee.
No. SC07-2008.
Supreme Court of Florida.
September 24, 2009.

[18 So.3d 1020]

Ryan Thomas Truskoski of Ryan Truskoski, P.A., Orlando, FL, for Appellant.

Bill McCollum, Attorney General, and Meredith Charbula, Assistant Attorney General, Tallahassee, FL, for Appellee.


Michael James Jackson seeks review of the judgments of conviction and sentences of death entered for the first-degree murders of Carol and James Sumner along with his concurrent sentences for two counts of robbery and two counts of kidnapping. Pursuant to our mandatory jurisdiction to review final judgments entered in capital proceedings, we affirm Jackson's convictions and sentences. See art. V, § 3(b)(1), Fla. Const.


In July of 2005, Jackson and codefendants Tiffany Ann Cole, Bruce Kent Nixon, Jr., and Alan Lyndell Wade robbed, kidnapped, and murdered James and Carol Sumner.1 The plan to rob and murder the Sumners evolved from knowledge Cole obtained about the couple from a prior relationship with them. Before moving to Florida, the Sumners had resided in South Carolina and Tiffany Cole became acquainted with them there. The Sumners had been neighbors of Cole's family and had sold Cole a vehicle.

Cole and Jackson were involved in a personal relationship and often traveled together. In June of 2005, this couple came to Florida to visit Alan Wade. During this visit, the Sumners allowed Cole and Jackson to stay with them in their Jacksonville home. During this initial visit, Jackson noticed that the couple was frail and would be easy victims. The Sumners were in their early sixties but in ill health which required a daily regimen of various prescription medications. Jackson informed Wade of the Sumners' financial position, which included $90,000 from the sale of their South Carolina home and multiple television sets. Following the initial

18 So.3d 1021

visit, Jackson, Wade, and Cole began to develop a plan to rob the Sumners. Wade invited his best friend Bruce Nixon to join the scheme. At the time of the crimes, Wade and Nixon were eighteen years old, and Jackson and Cole were twenty-three years old.

Bruce Nixon testified at trial after entering into a plea agreement.2 He stated that the foursome planned the robbery together but Jackson was in charge. Jackson informed the codefendants that he would "take care" of the Sumners by injecting them with a shot of medicine to cause their deaths. In preparation for the robbery, Nixon stole several shovels to dig a hole and Cole rented a Mazda from a rental agency in South Carolina to transport the group. After arriving in Florida, the foursome secretly watched the house for several days as they developed a strategy for the logistics of the robbery. Several days before the murders, Nixon assisted Jackson and Wade in digging a six-foot-deep hole in a remote area of Georgia. The group left the shovels at that location when the excavation was completed. In further preparation for the attack, Jackson, Cole, and Wade purchased gloves, duct tape, and plastic wrap to be used in securing the victims. A "toy gun" was also obtained. Video surveillance captured the group entering and leaving the store where the items were purchased, and receipts for the purchases were found in the motel room where Jackson, Cole, and Wade were eventually apprehended.

On the evening of July 8, 2005, Nixon and Wade approached and knocked on the door of the Sumner residence. When Carol Sumner responded, Wade asked if he could use the telephone and Carol allowed Wade and Nixon to enter the house. Once inside, Wade ripped the telephone wire from the wall. The Sumners were held at "gunpoint" with the toy gun as Nixon and Wade bound them with the duct tape.

While Nixon and Wade entered the Sumner residence, Cole and Jackson remained outside in the rented Mazda because the Sumners knew and could identify them from their previous visit. As the crime unfolded, the foursome communicated with Nextel phones which operated as two-way handheld transceivers. After the men inside the residence informed Jackson through the Nextel phone that the Sumners were restrained, Jackson entered the home and began searching for bank statements and automated-teller-machine (ATM) cards. The codefendants found and removed jewelry, a lockbox of rare coins, and documents which were in the house.

While Jackson searched the house, Nixon and Wade forced the Sumners to the garage where they ordered the victims to climb into the trunk of the Sumners' Lincoln Town Car. Nixon and Wade then drove the vehicle to a gas station and refueled as Jackson and Cole followed in the Mazda. The four then drove to the Georgia gravesite as the Sumners remained trapped in the trunk of the vehicle. The Lincoln was driven close to the hole which the group had previously prepared, while Cole remained with the Mazda at the edge of the road. When the codefendants opened the trunk, they discovered that the duct tape had released and the bindings were not secure. Jackson then ordered Nixon to tighten the bindings and Nixon complied. Nixon stated that Jackson had obtained the personal identification number for the ATM card of the victims which

18 So.3d 1022

Jackson verified through a telephone call to their bank.

The Sumners, still alive and bound, were placed in the deep hole. Jackson admitted that he heard Carol Sumner moan while she was in the hole. Nixon asserted that he walked away from the open grave and left Jackson and Wade to bury the victims.3 Once the hole was filled with dirt, the group placed the shovels in the trunk of the Sumners' Lincoln and departed the Georgia site to return to Florida. After attempting to wipe the vehicle to remove any identifying information, the Lincoln was abandoned in Sanderson, Florida, which is located approximately twenty miles from the gravesite. The shovels used in the episode remained in the trunk.

The next stop for the group was an ATM in Jacksonville from which Jackson withdrew a large sum of money. After distributing the money among the codefendants, the group retired to a motel for the night. Later that evening, Wade and Cole returned to the Sumner residence to retrieve a computer which they later pawned.

The following day, Bruce Nixon separated from the group and returned to his home in Baker County, Florida. He attended a party there where he displayed a plastic bag filled with multicolored prescription medications. During the party, Nixon announced that he had buried people alive and killed them without expressly stating that he had been assisted by others.

On July 10, 2005, Carol Sumner's daughter reported to law enforcement that her parents were missing. The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office (JSO) responded to the Sumner residence the following day to investigate. The back door of the Sumner home was unlocked. Ingredients that appeared to be associated with preparation for a dinner were on the stove and dirty plates were in the kitchen. Carol's shoe and surgical boot were discovered which was unusual because these items were necessary for Carol to walk. That same day a JSO officer spotted a Lincoln Town Car in Sanderson. A subsequent analysis of items found in the Lincoln revealed Jackson's fingerprints on an unopened roll of plastic wrap.

As the JSO continued to investigate the disappearance of the Sumners, Jackson continued to withdraw money from the Sumner bank account. Between July 9 and July 13, 2005, approximately $5,000 was removed from the bank account. Photo surveillance captured Jackson using the Sumner ATM card several times from July 9 to July 13. The rented Mazda could be seen in the background of some of the surveillance photos.

When Jackson began to have difficulty accessing the account, he contacted the bank purporting to be James Sumner. The bank informed Jackson that the daily withdrawal limit for the account had been exceeded. Jackson then attempted to solicit assistance from the JSO in accessing the accounts. Continuing to pretend that he was James Sumner, Jackson explained to a member of the JSO that he had left town hurriedly with his wife to attend the funeral of her sister in Delaware. When the officer asked to speak to his wife, Tiffany Cole responded under the pretense of being a tired and ailing Carol Sumner.

The JSO detective suspected that he was not actually speaking to the Sumners. Accordingly, he contacted a United States Marshal to assist the JSO in tracking the

18 So.3d 1023

cellular telephone used by the caller, who was later identified as Jackson. The cellular telephone had been used in the vicinity of the Sumner residence during the approximate time of the abduction. Using the rental car global positioning system, law enforcement determined that the Mazda was within blocks of the Sumner residence on the night of the murders. Based upon the ATM photos of the Mazda, South Carolina law enforcement were able to track Tiffany Cole to two motel rooms rented under her name in the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

On July 14, 2005, law enforcement found Jackson, Cole, and Wade at the motel. The police obtained a search warrant for the motel rooms. Upon receiving the entry code for the safe located in the motel room from the management, the police opened the safe and discovered identification, credit cards, a checkbook, and papers belonging to the Sumners. Some paperwork and mail were also in the motel room. A key ring that belonged to the Sumners was discovered in Wade's motel room. Law enforcement found and recovered the Sumner coin collection in the trunk of Cole's vehicle.

Cole, Jackson, and Wade were arrested. Jackson was interrogated by several detectives. Law enforcement discovered an ATM card in a trash can in the interrogation room which lacked an identifying personal name but had been issued by the Sumners' bank. Jackson informed the detectives that he had knowledge...

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