Sebring bank shooter apologizes in handwritten note for 2019 murders, court records show

The gunman who pleaded guilty in the killings of five women inside a SunTrust Bank in Highlands County has apologized in a handwritten note, court records show. 

During a Tuesday court hearing, Zephen Xaver formally pleaded guilty, and the judge accepted it. The penalty phase of the case is now scheduled for January 2024, and a jury will decide whether he spends the rest of his life in prison or faces the death penalty. 

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Court documents obtained by FOX 13 show the handwritten note from Xaver. It reads, "I want to plead guilty to accept responsibility for the murders I committed on January 23, 2019. I am sorry for what I did to the victims and their families, and I wish there was something I could do now to change what happened."

Xaver was 21 years old when he fatally shot four employees and a customer inside the Sebring bank off of US 27 more than four years ago. Prosecutors said he forced the five women on the floor and shot them before calling 911. 

That began two-hour standoff with Highland County deputies and other law enforcement officers, which ended with Xaver in custody. 

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Bank employees Ana Piñon-Williams, Debra Cook, Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, and a customer, Cynthia Watson, were all murdered.

The Florida Department of Corrections said Xaver was a correctional officer trainee with Avon Park Correctional Institution for about two months. He resigned two weeks before the shooting, and they said he didn’t have any disciplinary problems while he worked there.

Questions over his competency and medical issues caused the trial to be delayed for years. The state is seeking the death penalty and has built its case to try and show that Xaver's plans were years in the making. 

Witnesses include family members; a former girlfriend who said Xaver had previously talked about killing students at his Indiana high school; and a police report from Michigan detailing messages he sent about attempting suicide by cop and taking hostages.

Police said they haven't found any connection between suspect Xaver and the victims. It also did not appear that there had been any attempt to rob the bank.