TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The gunman who killed five women at a bank in Sebring four years ago has pleaded guilty.
Zephen Xaver, 25, pleaded guilty to five counts of premeditated first-degree murder in the killings of four employees and a customer at the Suntrust Bank on Jan. 23, 2019.
“It is my belief that Xaver understands that by entering a guilty plea today, guilty pleas, that the case will proceed to the penalty phase only and that he will only have the option of life in prison without parole or the death penalty,” said Assistant Public Defender Jane McNeill.
Authorities said Xaver called 911 from inside the branch and said he shot five people. A SWAT team responded and took him into custody after more than an hour of negotiations.
“He pulls the gun out and directs all five women to get on the floor face down and systematically executes them,” a prosecutor said.
The prosecutor also read a text message Xaver sent to a friend before the massacre.
“The fun part is that I’m not going to go out alone, I’m taking a few people with me because I’ve always wanted to kill people,” one message said.
The victims were identified as Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, Ana Pinon-Williams, Debra Cook and Cynthia Watson.
Xaver had pleaded not guilty to the killings, but changed his plea on Tuesday.
Judge Cowden questioned him intensely before accepting the plea.
“Do you understand that by pleading guilty you are giving up the right to have a trial?” Cowden asked Xaver. “Has anyone forced or threatened you?”
“No ma’am,” Xaver replied.
Xaver faces the death penalty or life in prison without parole.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin Jan. 16, 2024.