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Ex-Army, Prison Guard Trainee to Be Sentenced for Executing 5 Women at Florida Bank

Ex-Army, Prison Guard Trainee to Be Sentenced for Executing 5 Women at Florida Bank

Jury selection begins Monday in the sentencing trial for a man who executed five women at a central Florida bank in 2019, texting a girlfriend in another state that he was “dying today” and “taking a few people with me because I’ve always wanted to kill people so I am going to try it and see how it goes.”

Zephen Xaver  pleaded guilty to five counts of murder last year in the deaths of Cynthia Watson, 65; Marisol Lopez, 55; Ana Pinon-Williams, 38; Debra Cook, 54; and Jessica Montague, 31, on January 23, 2019, WFOR reported. He called 911 after the murders and told them what he’d done, apparently having changed his mind about “dying today.”

Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, while the defense is expected to cite Xaver’s years-long mental health problems to avoid execution.

Despite his well-documented mental health issues, the state of Florida hired Xaver in November 2018 to train as a prison guard. He quit the training after two months, however, and on the day before he quit, he legally purchased a 9mm handgun and ammunition, again, despite his well-documented mental health issues.

FILE – This Jan. 23, 2019, booking photo released by the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office shows Zephen Xaver. Jury selection starts Monday in the penalty trial of 27-year-old Xaver, who pleaded guilty last year to murder. (Highlands County Sheriff’s Office via AP, File)

Those issues included his high school principal in South Bend, Indiana, calling police in 2014 after he told people he was having dreams about hurting his classmates. His mother promised to get him mental health help.

Two years later, he joined the US Army, but was kicked out after three months. A former girlfriend, who met him at a mental health hospital where they were both patients, told investigators that he said he joined the Army because the military was a “way to kill people and get away with it.”

In 2017, a Michigan woman reported him to police after he sent her text messages indicating he might commit “suicide by cop” or take hostages.

After buying the gun with no problems in Florida, and before the murders, Xaver bought a bulletproof vest, which he wore beneath a sweatshirt into the SunTrust Bank in Sebring on the day he killed the five women. About five hours before heading to the bank, he texted the out of state woman, telling her “this is the best day of my life” without explaining why.

He later texted her from the parking lot, “I’m dying today.”

“I’m taking a few people with me because I’ve always wanted to kill people so I am going to try it and see how it goes,” he texted. “Watch for me on the news.”

Once inside, he told Lopez, the bank’s teller coordinator, to lock the doors, then ordered the women to lie face down on the floor before shooting them point blank. He’d been inside for less than four minutes.

He called 911 on his cell phone and chatted with them for about an hour before a SWAT team broke in and took him into custody, as CrimeOnline reported. He confessed during an interview with police, and the video of his confession is expected to be played during the sentencing trial.

The bank was later torn down, and the site is now a park with a memorial to the victims.

Lopez was a mother of two. Pinon-Williams, a banker trainee, was a mother of seven. Cook, a teller, was a mother of two and a grandmother. Montague, a banker, was the mother of one and stepmother of four. Watson, a customer, had been married for less than a month.

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[Featured image: Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, Ana Pinon-Williams, and Cynthia Watson/handouts]