The Commission on Capital Cases updates this information regularly. This information; however, is subject to change and may not reflect the latest status of an inmate’s case and should not be relied upon for statistical or legal purposes.
SALAZAR, NEIL (B/M)
Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, Okeechobee County Case #00-00368
Sentencing Judge: The Honorable Judge Sherwood Bauer, Jr.
Attorney, Trial: Russell Akins – Public Defender’s Office
Attorney, Direct Appeal: Gary Lee Caldwell – Public Defender’s Office
Attorney, Collateral Appeals: Rachel Day – CCRC-S
Date of Offense: 06/26/00
Date of Sentence: 05/30/06
Circumstances of Offense:
On May 30, 2000, Neil Salazar was sentenced to death for the murder of Evelyn Nutter and the attempted murder of Ronze Cummings.
At the time of the murders, Salazar was living with Fred Cummings and Cummings’ girlfriend (Shirleen Baker) in Miami, Florida. Salazar was involved in drug trafficking and had frequently discussed his dealings in the home where Fred Cummings’ cousin, Julius Hatcher, was frequently present. On June 26, 2000, Salazar had become paranoid that Hatcher was planning to turn him over to the FBI, and he confronted Hatcher when he visited the Cummings’ home that evening. He threatened Hatcher with a machine gun and bound him with duct tape, telling him he would have to do something to prove his trustworthiness. Salazar left Hatcher in an upstairs bedroom for a few hours, during which time Fred Cummings and Shirleen Baker returned to the house. Later, Salazar brought Hatcher outside and forced him into a rented car. Salazar and Baker drove north on Interstate 95, cutting Hatcher loose as they passed through Pompano Beach. At approximately 11:00 p.m., the trio arrived at the Fort Drum home of Evelyn Nutter and Ronze Cummings, another cousin of Hatcher and Fred Cummings.
Upon arrival, Salazar dismantled the back porch light and broke the lock on the door. Salazar and Hatcher entered the home as Ronze and Nutter were sitting in the living room watching television with their two-year-old son. Salazar ordered the occupants to lie on the floor while Hatcher bound their hands and feet with duct tape. For about 15 minutes, Salazar ranted about his failing drug trafficking business and accused the couple of communicating with the FBI. After threatening to kill Hatcher if he refused to cooperate, he ordered Hatcher to place plastic shopping bags over their heads. When the couple did not suffocate as Salazar had expected, he ordered Hatcher to cut their throats. When he refused, Salazar gave Hatcher a .38-caliber revolver and ordered him to hold a pillow against their heads and shoot them. Cummings and Nutter were taken into separate rooms where Hatcher shot each one in the head. Nutter died almost instantly. Cummings survived his two gun shots to his head and later walked to a nearby orange grove office to call 911. Salazar had given Hatcher the keys to Cummings’ and Nutter’s car and told him to follow Baker and him back to Miami.
Approximately one week after Cummings was released from the hospital, Julius Hatcher presented himself at Miami-Dade Police Department and confessed to the shootings. His confession was largely consistent with Cummings’ description of the events. To receive immunity from the death penalty, Hatcher provided testimony against Salazar at trial. Hatcher claimed that Salazar coerced him into committing the murders. Hatcher said that he had taped the victims and also shot them, all at the command of Salazar. Cummings also stated that Salazar was in charge of the incident, giving orders to Hatcher and that he heard him use threats if he failed to comply.
On 11/06/06, Julius Hatcher was convicted of second-degree murder (Evelyn Nutter), attempted murder (Ronze Cummings), armed trespassing, and grand theft of a motor vehicle. He received two life sentences for the murder and attempted murder convictions and five-year sentences for the trespassing and theft convictions.
07/19/00 Indicted as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder (Evelyn Nutter)
Count II: Attempted First-Degree Murder (Ronze Cummings)
Count III: Armed Burglary of a Dwelling
Count IV: Grand Theft Auto
03/09/06 Jury returned guilty verdicts on all counts of the indictment.
03/17/06 Jury recommended death by a vote of 12-0.
05/30/06 Sentenced as follows:
Count I: First-Degree Murder – Death
Count II: Attempted First-Degree Murder – Life
Count III: Armed Burglary – Life
Count IV: Grand Theft Auto – 5 Years
Florida Supreme Court – Direct Appeal
991 So.2d 364
07/13/06 Direct appeal filed
07/10/08 Disposition affirmed
07/24/08 Motion for Rehearing filed
09/17/08 Rehearing denied
10/03/08 Mandate entered
United States Supreme Court – Certiorari Petition
129 S.Ct. 1347
12/11/08 Petition filed
02/23/09 Petition denied
Circuit Court – 3.851 Motion
02/08/10 Motion filed
09/01/10 Amended motion filed
Factors Contributing to the Delay in Imposition of Sentence:
Imposition of sentence is progressing normally.
On 07/13/06, Salazar filed a Direct Appeal in the Florida Supreme Court. In his Initial Brief, Salazar cited the following issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in denying the defense Motion for Mistrial during the State’s final argument when the State told jurors that it had made a deal with Hatcher so that Salazar would not “walk” lest there be another attempt on Ronze Cummings’ life; (2) the trial court erred in letting the State present Detective Brock’s testimony that he was “trying to find the truth” in his investigation; (3) the trial court erred in finding the cold, calculated, and premeditated (CCP) aggravating factor; (4) the trial court erred in allowing the appellee to argue to the jury that Cummings and Hatcher were terrorized during the burglary; (5) the trial court erred in overruling Salazar’s objection to the jury instruction on the cold, calculated, and premeditated (CCP) circumstance on the ground that it failed to require that the State prove that Salazar intended to kill before the crime began; and (6) Florida’s death penalty statute is unconstitutional. On 07/10/08, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the disposition of the Trial Court. On 07/24/08, Salazar filed a Motion for Rehearing, which was denied on 09/17/08. The mandate was entered 10/03/08.
On 12/11/08, Salazar filed a Certiorari Petition in the United States Supreme Court. On 02/23/09, the United States Supreme Court denied this petition.
Salazar filed a 3.851 Motion in the Circuit Court on 02/08/10. An amended motion was filed on 09/01/10. This case is currently pending.
Report Date: 10/16/08 AEH
Approved: 10/20/08 RM
Updated: 09/21/10 EMJ