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After jury recommendation for death penalty, defense makes final attempt to keep Nassau County deputy murderer off death row

NASSAU COUNTY, Florida. — Attorneys for Patrick McDowell will make a final attempt in court Monday morning to keep the man who pleaded guilty to murdering a Nassau County police officer from being sentenced to death row.

But the road to that goal is likely to be difficult, considering that McDowell himself asked the jury to recommend the death penalty for him when the verdict was announced in April.

By a vote of 11 to 1, the jury recommended the death penalty for McDowell, who admitted to shooting Nassau County Deputy Joshua Moyers during a traffic stop in 2021.

On Monday, McDowell and his lawyers will return to court with prosecutors for what is known as a Spencer hearing. It is the last chance for the lawyers to present evidence to the court in hopes of convincing the judge to overturn the jury's recommendation for the death penalty and impose a life sentence.

McDowell is not expected to be sentenced on Monday. The judge would normally take time to review arguments and set a later sentencing date.

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Gene Nichols, a local criminal defense attorney not involved in the case, said it is “incredibly rare” for a judge to override a jury's recommendation.

“Judges usually want to side with a jury, especially in a case like this. It's happened in the past, but with such a strong number and based on the evidence that came to light in this case,” Nichols said. “I would be very surprised if the court overturned this death sentence.”

McDowell's lawyers will also have to deal with his own statements during the criminal trial, including: “I can't take away the pain I caused, but I can pay for it. So let me pay for it.”

“Because of the statements he made already at sentencing, which were essentially, 'Kill me,'” Nichols said. “That puts his defense team in a very uncomfortable position. And then it really just gives them the opportunity to argue that there must be some psychological reason why he took that stance. Whether that's the case or not, we may hear that during the hearing.”

Watch McDowell’s full statement in the video below:

The Spencer hearing, which begins at 9 a.m. in Nassau County, is more likely to be about ensuring McDowell's right to due process is upheld, Nichols said.

“After the jury in a death penalty case makes its recommendation, the defendant has another chance to convince the court that the sentence should not be the death penalty,” Nichols said.

RELATED | Drug use, PTSD and military service affected Patrick McDowell's mental state the night he killed the deputy, an expert says

No further evidence is expected to be presented at Monday's hearing, only oral arguments. During the criminal proceedings, McDowell's defense attorneys focused on:

  • military service

  • Documented post-traumatic stress disorder due to combat missions

  • Drug addiction

READ | Defense team files motions to keep Nassau County deputy murderer's killer off death row

These arguments were repeated in documents filed last month, one of which even calls for an entirely new sentencing phase.

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