Justices Overturn Death Sentence In Store Murder
By Space Coast Daily // March 28, 2014
LAW & ORDER IN FLORIDA
By The News Service of Florida
Weighing whether execution is a “proportionate” penalty, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned a death sentence for a man convicted in the 2008 murder of a Jacksonville convenience-store worker.
Justices, in a 5-2 opinion, found that Michael M. Yacob should serve life in prison instead of facing lethal injection in the shooting death of 19-year-old Moussa Maida. Yacob, now 28, killed Maida during a robbery of a family-owned convenience store.
Maida handed over money to Yacob but then flipped a switch that locked the store’s front door, temporarily preventing Yacob from escaping, the court opinion said. Yacob shot through the glass of a cashier’s booth, hitting Maida in the chest, and then was able to flee the store after pulling apart burglar bars.
The Supreme Court’s ruling focused on what are known in death penalty cases as “aggravators” – factors used in determining whether execution is warranted. The majority opinion said the case involved a “robbery gone bad” and that there were not enough aggravating factors to impose the death penalty.
“The evidence shows that although Yacob held a gun on Maida while in the cashier’s booth, he pocketed it as he left the booth and continued walking toward the front door despite seeing Maida stand up inside the cashier’s booth,” the majority opinion said. “Perceiving Maida’s sudden movement first to the counter and then toward the booth door as a threat to the completion of the robbery and his escape, however, Yacob immediately pulled out the gun, ran back to the booth door, and shot twice, killing Maida with the second shot. There was no indication that murdering Maida was part of Yacob’s original robbery plan.”
Justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, Jorge Labarga and James E.C. Perry agreed to overturn the death sentence. Chief Justice Ricky Polston and Justice Charles Canady were in the minority.
“I dissent from the majority’s decision to reverse the death sentence imposed on Yacob, which is in derogation of the unequivocal provision adopted by the people of Florida to constrain the power of this court to set aside sentences of death,” Canady wrote.
A Tale of Two Lives
At eight o’clock on the morning of May 4, 2008, 19-year-old Moussa Maida opened up the Snappy Food Store on Trollie Lane in Jacksonville, Florida. As he entered through the front door, Michael Yacob rushed in behind him. Masked and armed with a handgun, he forced Maida into the cashier’s booth and made him open the safe.
With a bag full of cash, Yacob turned to flee. Maida, however, pressed a button that locked the the robber in the store. The clerk then locked himself inside the booth in what he thought was a bulletproof glass enclosure.
Yacob came back to the window and shot at Maida. He missed with the first round, but fired again. This time the bullet pierced the glass and hit Maida in the chest.
A surveillance video-camera in the store recorded Maida’s final moments of life. After being shot, he fell to the floor. He moaned several times in an apparent attempt to breathe, then died.
In the meantime, Yacob ran to the locked door and tried to break the glass so he could escape. The diminutive robber (five-feet three inches tall and 139 pounds) fired several shots into the glass — eventually he pried open a hole and crawled out.
But during his struggle to get away, he cut himself. Investigators collected blood and developed a DNA profile. Two years later, while in prison for aggravated assault, Jacksonville cops got a cold hit. A match was obtained from the blood Yacob left behind at the Snappy Food Store.
In 2011, Michael Mulugetta Yacob, 24, was convicted of first degree murder and sentenced to death. Circuit Judge Adrian G. Soud was visibly shaken while watching the video of a cold-blooded murder in his courtroom.
Addressing the killer, Judge Soud said: “This is not a case of a robbery gone bad. This is not a case of things going out of control. This is the case of a man who made a conscious decision to end the life of a 19-year-old boy.”
Moussa Maida had immigrated from Syria when he was a teenager. He worked hard to learn English and while attending Englewood High School, mastered the language. In fact, he later became an interpreter to other Syrian students at the school. According to the Times-Union, his younger sister, Cristen Maida, testified in court “that because he spoke English much better than his parents, he took on more responsibilities than an average teen at the store and at home.”
“Moussa took me under his wing and helped me adjust to life in the United States,” Cristen said. “I could ask him things I couldn’t ask my parents. I can remember riding around with him, listening to music and singing to the top of our lungs.”
All the while, the teen worked tirelessly in his father’s convenience store. Maida’s dream was to become a doctor and, after high school, he enrolled at Jacksonville Community College. He went out of his way to avoid trouble, concentrating instead on working to achieve his future dreams.
Maida’s family was devastated by the senseless murder.
“Most of the people can’t believe it, especially my mom,” Cristen said. “It’s a big loss for her to lose her son. She can’t believe it. She’s having a really hard time.”
Maida’s uncle, Fysal Taazieh, said: “Somebody took his future away…since he got here, he’s been working and going to school — that’s been eliminated for no sense.”
Michael Yacob had a lengthy record filled with arrests for drug offenses, burglary and robbery.
During Yacob’s sentencing, Judge Soud said: “This murder…is forever memorialized in full color on the video and audio security recordings of Snappy Food Store.”