5 years after deadly Sebring SunTrust bank shooting, the killer enters the sentencing phase of trial

Reporter: Taylor Petras Writer: Carolina Guzman
Published: Updated:

Five women who were mothers, wives, and sisters were well-known in their small community when their lives tragically ended more than five years ago.

A man shot and killed them inside the SunTrust bank in Sebring.  

Now, a jury will decide whether their confessed killer, Zephen Xaver, will get the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison.

On January 23rd, 2019, Jermaine Montague and his wife Jessica were supposed to meet up for lunch to celebrate his birthday.

But the husband and wife, who were only married for one year, didn’t get to have that meal together.

“It’s a panic. You know, I remember what I did, but I don’t remember the feeling because it was so, it was so quick,” said Jermaine Montague, the victim’s husband.

Word travels fast in the small town.

That afternoon, a man walked into the SunTrust bank in Sebring, where Jessica worked, and opened fire.

“They had us sit at the hotel for about 10 and a half, maybe about 11 hours, before they came and confirmed and gave us the news because they said they didn’t want to make any mistakes,” said Jermaine.

But Jermaine knew his wife, the mother of their daughter, was murdered in the massacre.

“When I say we talk about her every day, it’s every day we talk about her because I don’t want her to have that empty space where she forgets who her mom is,” said Jermaine.

Jessica and four other women died that day. They were working, running a quick errand. Their names are now engraved forever at a memorial park created after SunTrust demolished the bank.

A painful reminder for this tight-knit community that violence can erupt anywhere.

“Everybody knows everybody so it impacted the community so much because the people that worked at these banks. They were well-known people,” said Jermaine.

Now, more than five years later, Zephen Xaver, the man who confessed to the killing of the five women, will soon learn his fate.

A jury will soon hear testimony and then recommend whether Xaver should get the death penalty or spend the rest of his life in prison.

Jermaine told WINK News it should not have taken this long to get to this point.

“Our tax-paying dollars have fed this man for the past five years over something that I can’t get back,” said Jermaine. “What I would like to see is for him to get the death penalty because it’s not that it’s fair; it’s only right.”

Because memories and pictures of Jessica are all that Jermaine and his daughter have left.

“It’s going to be a long time before it feels any better than what it does. I just take it day by day,” said Jermaine.

Each family will have the opportunity to read a victim impact statement, and a new Florida law no longer requires the jury to be unanimous in recommending the death penalty.

Eight of twelve is enough.

The penalty trial could last until the end of June.

Currently, the court is struggling to find 12 people to sit on the jury. The jury selection process started nearly three weeks ago.

Copyright ©2024 Fort Myers Broadcasting. All rights reserved.

This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without prior written consent.