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A Black man sitting in his car in Daytona, Florida, shot and fatally wounded a police officer who wouldn’t tell him why he was being stopped in June. Now, a day after the officer died of his injuries, the state announced that it will be seeking the death penalty.
Florida’s state attorney said Wednesday that he will seek to execute 29-year-old Othal Wallace in the death of 26-year-old Jason Raynor, a three-year veteran with the Daytona Police Department, who was shot in the head after a brief scuffle with Wallace while on patrol June 23. Raynor had remained in critical condition since the shooting following emergency surgery, but he succumbed to his injuries Tuesday.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Officer Jason Raynor, the Daytona Beach Police Department, and all our brothers and sisters in law enforcement," said State Attorney R.J. Larizza. "We will proceed with our solemn mission to hold Officer Jason Raynor’s murderer accountable. Justice equals accountability and justice demands the death penalty."
Wallace is a member of the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense, an unrelated and extremist offshoot of the New Black Panther Party, that’s known for its anti-LGBTQ and antisemitic rhetoric. Although body camera footage appears to show the shooting occurred spur-of-the-moment, Florida prosecutors argue the state’s unique definition of “premeditation” makes Wallace’s alleged crime punishable by death.
“The law is clear that premeditation must be long enough to allow reflection by the defendant,” Spencer Hathaway, an assistant attorney with the state prosecutor’s office told VICE News. “But that can happen potentially in the blink of an eye.”
News of the attorney’s office’s decision to seek the death penalty also comes a day after Wallace was served an arrest warrant on the charge of first-degree murder, to which he pleaded not guilty.
Matthew Metz, the elected public defender for Florida’s 7th Circuit, told VICE News that Wallace’s state appointed attorneys would not be commenting at this time.
To seek the death penalty in Florida, an alleged murder must have been premeditated, according to Robert Dunham, the executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center. While many states define premeditated as being planned in advance of the crime in question, Florida only requires the decision to be made and acted upon. The killing of a law enforcement officer in the state can also up the charge to first-degree.
“The troublesome aspects of this case are that first degree murder is being charged at all given the circumstances of the encounter,” Dunham said. “And it has the appearance of the prosecution attempting to manipulate the system to obtain an uneven playing field in a case that is extraordinarily racially sensitive.”
At around 9 pm on June 23, Officer Raynor, who was on patrol that night, approached a gray Honda HRV parked outside of an apartment building in Daytona, Florida. As Raynor asked Wallace if he lived at the residence, Wallace began to get out of the car.
Raynor placed a hand on Wallace's shoulder asking him to get back in the vehicle. Raynor also didn’t tell Wallace why he was being stopped.
“Sir. Come on now. Don’t do this,” Wallace is heard saying on police body cam footage released shortly after the shooting. “Why are you asking me if I live here?”
Raynor called for backup seconds before a scuffle ensued. Moments later, a shot was fired, injuring the cop. After the shooting, Wallace led police on a two-day, cross-state manhunt. He was eventually found in a remote area of DeKalb County, Georgia, hours after he allegedly posted a message to his supporters on social media.
““I want y’all to know something, man. I love y’all,” Wallace said in the video, according to the Daytona Beach News-Journal. “Black Power. Stay strong as a nation. Keep fucking fighting. Move fucking forward.”
Shortly after the shooting, Wallace was suspected to be a member of the Not Fucking Around Coalition, an all-Black militia known for their armed, anti-police brutality protests in cities like Louisville. However, the organization’s leader, John “Grandmaster Jay” Fitzgerald Johnson, told VICE News at the time that Wallace had left the group in January and joined the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
Despite the near-identical name, the New Black Panther Party for Self Defense varies greatly from the New Black Panther Party. Founded in Atlanta back in 2013, the group has been described as a “bigoted, anti-white, antisemitic Black Nationalist group that preaches hate toward the LGBT and Jewish communities” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The New Black Panther Party for Self Defense has also been linked to several deadly incidents, including a 2016 incident when a former member shot and killed five police officers in Dallas with a sniper rifle.
A date has not been set for Wallace’s next appearance in court.
"We fully support R.J. Larizza and his staff,” Daytona Police Department Chief Jakari Young said in a statement included alongside the state attorney’s. “We will do everything in our power to assist them in this pursuit of justice for the Raynor family, the men and women of the Daytona Beach Police Department and all law enforcement officers everywhere."