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Jason Bryce LOONEY





Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robbery - Arson
Number of victims: 2
Date of murder: July 27, 1997
Date of arrest: Next day
Date of birth: April 5, 1977
Victims profile: Melanie King and Robin Keith Spears
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Wakulla County, Florida, USA
Status: Sentenced to death on February 18, 2000

Florida Supreme Court


opinion SC00-458

opinion SC05-159


DC# N00676 
DOB:  04/05/77 

Second Judicial Circuit, Wakulla County Case# 97-215-CF
Sentencing Judge, Trial:  The Honorable N. Sanders Sauls
Attorney, Trial:  Greg Cummings – Special Assistant Public Defender
Attorney, Direct Appeal:  Barbara Sanders – Private
Attorney, Collateral Appeals:  Frank E. Sheffield – Registry

Date of Offense:  07/27/97     

Date of Sentence:  02/18/00

Circumstances of the Offense:

The bodies of Melanie King and Robin Keith Spears were found in their burning home in the early morning hours of 07/27/97.

On 07/26/97, Jason Looney, Guerry Hertz, and Jimmy Dempsey left an acquaintance’s house on foot, which was within walking distance of the victims’ home, at approximately 11 p.m. 

A woman who lived approximately 500 yards from the victims’ home said that, at approximately 2 a.m., Hertz came to her home requesting to use her telephone because “his truck had broken down.” 

She refused and the three men proceeded to walk up the road towards the home of Melanie King and Robin Keith Spears.  When Looney saw their black Ford Mustang, he exclaimed, “There’s my car right there. That’s the one I want.”

Acting as a decoy, Dempsey and Hertz knocked on the victims’ front door and asked if they could use a telephone.  King gave them a cordless telephone and Dempsey pretended to make a call. 

When Dempsey started to hand the phone back to King, Hertz forced his way into the home at gunpoint.  Looney entered after him and targeted Spears with his rifle.  King and Spears were forced face down on their bed after being bound and gagged with duct tape. 

The three defendants stole various items including a television, a VCR, furniture, jewelry, CDs, and $1500 cash.  They loaded the stolen goods into the victims’ two vehicles.

Hertz and Looney decided that they could not leave witnesses and then informed Dempsey of their plan.  Dempsey testified that Hertz and Looney poured accelerants throughout the house, after which all three men went back to the bedroom armed. 

King told the defendants that she would “rather die being burnt up than shot.”  She then stated, “Please, God, don’t shoot me in the head.”  Hertz replied, “Sorry, can’t do that,” before he started firing his firearm.  Looney started firing and was followed by Dempsey.  Both King and Spears died as a result of the gunshot wounds.

After the shootings, the house was set afire.  Looney drove away in the victims’ Ford Mustang with Dempsey as a passenger, while Hertz drove the victims’ white Ford Ranger.  Dempsey reported that the entire episode spanned two hours.  They drove to Hertz’ house so that they could divide the money and unload the stolen cargo. 

Testimony was given by two Tallahassee Wal-Mart employees stating that the three men showed off their new vehicles, a black Ford Mustang and a white Ford Ranger, after making a purchase at approximately 5 a.m.  The employees’ testimony was corroborated by a Wal-Mart receipt for clothes that was found in the victims’ Ford Mustang. 

Looney, Hertz, and Dempsey then drove to Daytona Beach, Florida, where they were involved in a police shootout after a police pursuit.  Looney and Dempsey abandoned the victims’ Ford Mustang and were arrested as they were fleeing the scene.  Hertz was shot, abandoned the victims’ Ford Ranger and paid $100 for a cab-ride to his aunt’s St. Augustine home.  Hertz was arrested that day and police discovered Spears’ .9mm gun in Hertz’s bag.

An FDLE firearms expert testified that one of the bullets fired in the victims’ home was fired from a .380 Lorcin gun that was in Looney’s possession when he was arrested.  The Lorcin gun had belonged to Spears and Dempsey reported that Hertz had used it to shoot the victims. 

The police also found Dempsey’s wallet containing $380, Looney’s wallet containing $464, and a roll of duct tape in the victims’ Ford Mustang.  Latent fingerprints that matched all three men were taken from the victims’ Ford Mustang. 

Evidence of various accelerants were found on clothing in the victim’s Ford Mustang and an expert later testified that the extensive fire damage to the victims’ home could only have been accomplished with the use of accelerants. 

The bodies of Melanie King and Robin Keith Spears were both severely burned, but the medical examiner testified that both deaths were caused by gunshot wounds due to a lack of soot in the victims’ trachea, indicating that they were already dead when the fire started.  Further testimony indicated that both victims lived one to two minutes after being shot.


Codefendant Information:

Guerry Wayne Hertz (DC# 567668)

Hertz received identical convictions and sentences as Looney, which included two death sentences (CC# 97-214). 

Jimmy Dewayne Dempsey (DC# 971421)

Dempsey received the same convictions as Looney and Hertz.  Because he entered into a plea agreement with the State, Dempsey was sentenced to life for the murders instead of death (CC# 97-213).


Trial Summary:

08/26/97          Indicted as follows:

Count I: First-Degree Murder
Count II: First-Degree Murder
Count III: Armed Burglary of a Dwelling
Count IV: Robbery with a Firearm
Count V: Arson of a Dwelling
Count VI: Threatens to Use Any Firearm

12/09/99          The defendant was found guilty on all counts of the indictment

12/11/99          Jury recommended death by a vote of 10-2

02/18/00          Sentenced as follows:

Count I: First-Degree Murder – Death
Count II: First-Degree Murder – Death
Count III: Armed Burglary of a Dwelling – Life
Count IV: Robbery with a Firearm – Life
Count V: Arson of a Dwelling – 30 Years
Count VI: Threatens to Use Any Firearm – 15 Years


Case Information:

A Direct Appeal was filed to the Florida Supreme Court on 03/03/00.  Issues that were raised on appeal included whether the details of the collateral crimes in Volusia County became a feature of the trial causing prejudice that substantially outweighed the probative value of the evidence and whether the trial court erred by refusing to grant a mistrial after the State’s witness testified about a hearsay statement by a non-testifying codefendant that incriminated Looney. 

The Court found all of the claims either harmless or without merit and affirmed the conviction and sentence on 11/01/01

Looney filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court on 03/20/02, which was denied on 06/28/02.

Looney filed a 3.850 Motion to the Circuit Court on 06/30/03.  It was amended on 03/09/04.  The motion was denied on 12/30/04.

On 01/27/05, Looney filed a 3.850 Appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.  During the appeal, Looney raised the issue of ineffective counsel.  He claimed that the defense counsel (Attorney Cummings) failed to:  (1) present statutory and non-statutory mitigation, (2) use a mental health expert, and (3) present mitigation convincingly.  The Court concluded that Looney failed to meet his burden under Strickland. 

All of the additional mitigators that Looney asserts were not presented during the penalty phase were either presented or not presented because defense counsel had no indication that the mitigating factor might apply to Looney’s case. 

As a result, the Court finds that effective counsel was provided and none of the testimony presented by Looney during the evidentiary hearing undermines the Court’s confidence in the proceedings.  Therefore, the Court affirmed the Circuit Court’s denial of Looney’s 3.850 Motion on 06/22/06.



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