The same jury that took less than an hour to find Michael Harrison Hunt guilty as charged of First-Degree Murder and other charges Wednesday, voted 10-2 to recommend the death penalty Friday, State Attorney Larry Basford announced.
“When someone attempts to eliminate a victim or a witness, it is an attack on our entire Criminal Justice System,” Basford said Friday after the penalty phase. “We appreciate the jury’s service and attention to detail during this 9-day trial. And we are thankful to Lexi Peck’s family for their patience and faith in our Judicial System during the investigation, preparation, and prosecution of this case.”
Alexandra “Lexie” Elise Peck, 19, was one of four people shot in an Allen Avenue home April 4, 2019, in what evidence and testimony proved was a targeted attack on a fifth person who was accusing the defendant of sexual battery. That person escaped injury and prosecutors Mark Graham and Peter Overstreet showed Peck’s death was a result of mistaken identity.
Hunt was charged with First-Degree Murder in her death, and three additional counts of Attempted First-Degree Murder in the shootings of Danny Scoggins (Peck’s stepdad), and two friends of Scoggins’ stepson. Hunt also was charged with Armed Burglary.
Scoggins, who speaks through his trachea and was the first witness, has endured about 60 surgeries since the 2019 shootings and has ongoing medical and health issues. He told jurors his family had taken in a teenager who was a victim of rape by Hunt and on April 4, 2019, there was a knock at the door. The person there claimed to be delivering a pizza and then forced his way in.
Scoggins said he recognized Hunt, who he had met and who had been in the home before, after his hoodie slid up when he pulled out a pistol and told him to shut up. Within seconds, Scoggins said, Hunt shot him at point-blank range in the throat and he fell to the floor, choking on his own blood. He also heard the voice of a man he did not recognize but who headed for the back of the house where his daughter and the other victims were.
And he heard his daughter crying for help.
“She said, ‘Dad, help me’ and she said. ‘Please don’t kill me.’” Scoggins testified. “Then I heard shots. I knew at that point I had to get out of the house because I knew if I didn’t die there, he was going to shoot me again on the way out.”
Scoggins managed to crawl and stagger next door, where a neighbor called 911.
Testimony showed that after Scoggins was shot, a gunman headed to a back bedroom where he found Peck, who had red hair like the intended target. Two teenagers in the room testified Peck ran in, and was followed by a man who put a gun to her temple and pulled the trigger without speaking. The gunman shot Peck again, then shot both of the other teens in the room twice each before leaving.
“He went in that house that night with one thing on his mind,” Overstreet told jurors. “To get rid of the witness against him in the other case and kill anyone who got in the way or who could be a witness. Unfortunately for him, Danny Scoggins did not die.”
Hunt had been in court three days earlier for a hearing on an unrelated charge when it was announced there was a new warrant against him for Sexual Battery of a person under the age of 18. Hunt was asked to take a seat as other court proceedings continued and the warrant could be found, confirmed and entered into the system.
Instead, Hunt fled the courthouse and was a fugitive. Three days later he committed the murder and other crimes attempting to kill the victim in the new sexual battery who was staying at the Allen Avenue home. He was detained the following day, April 5, as he drove southbound on U.S. 231.
“I will submit to you that the evidence is crystal clear, James Scoggins is crystal clear (Hunt) did this, and the only person who had a motive was the defendant,” Graham told jurors during closing arguments. “Use your common sense and I submit that each and ever one of you, when you consider the evidence, will come back with the only true and just verdict in this case: That this defendant is guilty as charged.”
The jury deliberated for less than an hour Wednesday before agreeing and reaching guilty verdicts on all counts. The penalty phase began at 9 a.m. Friday and ended around 3 p.m. Jurors needed only about 40 minutes to recommend death.
“The success of this prosecution is the result of the tireless efforts and thorough investigation by the detectives and officers of the Panama City Police Department, the assistance of the Bay County Sheriff’s Office investigators and criminal analysts, the entire Major Crimes Division of the State Attorney’s Office, and the skill and professionalism of Assistant State Attorneys Mark Graham and Peter Overstreet,” Basford said of the verdicts.
“This was truly a team effort,” he continued. “We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to keep our community safe. This type of violence cannot and will not be tolerated in our community.”
Circuit Court Judge Shonna Young Gay set sentencing for Nov. 7.
For more information, contact Mike Cazalas at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 850-381-7454.