SEBRING — Joseph Ables’ lawyer wants the death penalty off the table should a jury find him guilty of first degree murder, but prosecutors are holding fast with plans to seek his execution if a jury finds him guilty and recommends death.
Circuit Court Judge Peter Estrada will hear arguments on the motion in the next few months.
Assistant Public Defender Jayde Coleman filed the motion to save the life of the man who detectives say shot and killed Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy William Gentry in 2018.
Coleman cites Ables’ age, which is 70; his service in battle in Vietnam; and a severe mental health disorder diagnosis from Veterans Administration doctors as reasons Ables should not be executed if found guilty and a jury recommends death.
“An aged American veteran of a foreign war who suffers a severe mental health disorder is not the class of ‘criminal’ the law intended on executing under the death penalty statute,” Coleman argues in her motion. “A citizen in Mr. Ables’ circumstances and class is less culpable in his actions based on his infirmity of age and mental disorder.”
Bonde Johnson, the 10th Circuit prosecutor trying Ables, says the reasons Coleman sites are not legal reasons to strike the death penalty but are mitigating circumstances Coleman can argue before the jury retires to deliberate punishment, if Ables is found guilty.
“The pretrial determination as to whether to seek the death penalty lies exclusively with the state,” Johnson’s Dec. 9 motion argues.
On May 7, 2018, Gentry was investigating a Placid Lakes resident’s complaint that Ables had shot her cat. Ables, a convicted felon, allegedly shot the young deputy near his front door.