Sebring bank shooting trial: Gunman told ex-girlfriend on day of massacre ‘I’ve always wanted to kill people’

On Thursday, jurors in the Sebring shooter’s sentencing trial heard from gunman Zephen Xaver’s ex-girlfriend. 

Xaver pleaded guilty to shooting and killing five women at a SunTrust Bank in Sebring on Jan. 23, 2019. Now, a jury will decide whether he will be sentenced to death or spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole. 

Imani Davis said she was in high school when she was in a long-distance, mostly online relationship with Xaver. She admitted that the pair spoke about attempting suicide and spent hours, sometimes days, on the phone together. 

Davis told the jury that the pair stopped communicating in May 2018 and did not have contact with each other until he messaged her on Jan. 23, 2019. She recalled he seemed happy and excited, telling her that it was a good day, which was not like him. 

READ: Sebring bank shooting trial: Gunman tells police ‘I deserve to die for this’ in video played for jurors

She stated that she was communicating with him on Jan. 23, 2019, when she could while at school, and he told her that he was dying that day. 

Xaver's ex-girlfriend Imani Davis testifies at his sentencing trial.

Xaver's ex-girlfriend Imani Davis testifies at his sentencing trial. 

A message sent to her at 12:14 p.m. on Jan. 23, 2019, read, "The fun part, the [expletive] cliché clincher, is that I’m not going out alone. I’m taking a few people out with me because I’ve always wanted to kill people, so I’m going to try it and see how it goes. Watch out for me on the news – Sebring, Florida."

She said she wrote back, "There’s something wrong with you. Seriously."

Davis said she showed the messages to her gym teacher since she was in gym class at the time. Then the school principal and psychiatrist got involved and called law enforcement locally and in the Sebring area.

On cross-examination, Davis stated that she reached out to Xaver at the jail. She said she asked Xaver why he did it, and he told her he didn't remember. 

RELATED: Sebring bank shooting trial: Jurors hear from bank teller who escaped, crisis negotiation recording

Erika Chevillot, a woman who met Xaver in bootcamp, also took the stand on Thursday morning. 

She recalled that he liked to talk about Satan, and he seemed to like to scare people. 

She added that he wrote her a note in a weatherproof notepad that he had homicidal feelings. She wrote him back on the pad that the military wasn’t a good place for him, and he needed to go to the medic and self-report. 

Chevillot said he went to the medical clinic the next day, and she didn’t see him again. However, she did reach out to him a year later on Facebook Messenger to find out what happened to him. 

Erika Chevillot, a woman who met Xaver at basic training, testified on Thursday morning.

Erika Chevillot, a woman who met Xaver at basic training, testified on Thursday morning. 

She said he told her he wanted to hold up a bank, and he wanted the police to shoot him, so they would look like heroes. She said he told her he wanted to do it on a Wednesday or a Friday, but didn't know why those two days were significant. 

She said she went to her local police station in Michigan and reported the conversation. The law enforcement officer she met with called the Bremen Police Department in Indiana because that's where Xaver was living at the time. 

The officer who took Chevillot's complaint, as well as the one who investigated, also took the stand. 

Jesse Pippenger of the Bremen Police Department told the jurors that he called Xaver's mother and did not feel the need to investigate further after speaking with her.   

Chevillot and Xaver communicated for a while afterward, but she blocked him when he began writing about doing things she found disturbing, such as ripping out someone’s fingernails, popping joints out of their sockets and death.

Greg Pichard, a licensed psychologist, took the stand on Thursday afternoon.

Greg Pichard, a licensed psychologist, took the stand on Thursday afternoon. 

On Thursday afternoon, Greg Prichard, a licensed psychiatrist, explained to the jury what auditory hallucinations are and the varying degrees someone may experience. 

He watched footage of Xaver inside the bank and listened to the 911 call he made after killing five women and said he did not seem to be experiencing severe auditory hallucinations. 

He said he would normally see some type of emotion such as fear, anxiety, or confusion if voices were really screaming at him when he went inside the bank. 

"I’m not seeing what I would expect to see clinically from somebody who is tormented by these voices as Mr. Xaver is claiming."

Testimony in the sentencing trial began on Monday. Since then, jurors heard from a bank teller who escaped the massacre, law enforcement officers and witnesses who arrived at the bank that afternoon to find the doors locked and people lying on the floor.

Jurors also watched an interview between Xaver and police shortly after his arrest in which he said, "I deserve to die for this."

Earlier in the week, jurors listened to the 911 call Xaver made from inside the bank moments after he shot five women inside. 

Twice, Xaver's defense team called for a mistrial. The first time was over an audience member who had an audible reaction to testimony and the presence of a therapy dog in the courtroom, and the second time was when an employee at the gun store where Xaver purchased his firearm gave him a dirty look when he entered the courtroom to testify. 

Both times, the judge denied the mistrial. 

Who is Zephen Xaver? 

The man police say shot and killed five people in a Sebring, Florida, SunTrust bank was described by a woman who knew him as "normal" and "well-mannered."

Sharon Spillane, a friend of Xaver’s parents, told FOX 13 in 2019 that she never in a million years saw this coming. 

"We’ve cooked together, I’ve been in their house, we’ve watched movies. They’re a very normal family," Spillane said. "He had a job, and he was very quiet and very well-mannered. Anytime that I saw him, he was very well-mannered, always good posture and well-spoken."

However, Xaver’s ex-girlfriend paints a different picture. In a previous interview with FOX 13, Alex Gerlach said Xaver was obsessed with guns and knives.

"The only thing I can remember is him talking about guns and wanting guns," Gerlach said in a 2019 interview. "He wants to hurt people physically."

According to Gerlach, she met Xaver in a psychiatric hospital in 2013. She said they dated off and on for about two years.

Pictured: Zephen Xaver

Pictured: Zephen Xaver

"At one point, my mother was terrified because she thought he was going to physically harm me," explained Gerlach, who described Xaver as a troubled teen. "For some reason, he always hated people and wanted everybody to die."

Gerlach said Xaver continued to make chilling comments over the years and said one week before the shooting he sent her a picture of him holding a gun.

"I've been scared for years and every single person I've told has not taken it seriously, and it's very unfortunate it had to come to this," she said in 2019.

Documents provided by the Bremen Police Department in Indiana state officers went to Xaver's high school in 2014, after school officials said he was having disturbing thoughts.

The documents state Xaver told school officials he had dreams of hurting his classmates. According to the police report, Xaver's mother agreed to take her son to a behavioral health center.

The Florida Department of Corrections confirmed Xaver was a correctional officer trainee with Avon Park Correctional Institution for about two months. He resigned two weeks before the shooting.

Sebring shooting victims

Marisol Lopez, Jessica Montague, Debra Cook and Ana Piñon-Williams were working at the SunTrust branch on U.S. 27 when Xaver opened fire. A customer, Cynthia Watson, was also killed in the attack. 

Following the shooting, Piñon-Williams' brother-in-law made a public statement on behalf of the family. He said the mother of seven was devoted to her family and her faith, "truly a light in this world."

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"Loving her was easy. Living without her will be hard. Our family will not only survive, but we will thrive," Tim Williams said.

Bank employee Marisol Lopez, 55, leaves behind her husband and two children. Her Facebook profile picture shows her smiling with a loved one. That smile is how longtime neighbor Gil Osborne said he will remember her.

"She had the best personality, always friendly, always smiling and always generous," Osborne told FOX 13 News in an earlier interview.

Officials said there was another employee in the bank at the time of the shooting. Law enforcement did not name the employee, but said the person was in a back room when shots were fired. They were able to escape and call for help.

Will Zephen Xaver get the death penalty? 

Xaver’s trial will be one of the first high-profile cases in Florida where the death penalty sentence no longer hinges on a unanimous jury verdict.

Florida lawmakers made the change in 2023, shortly after jurors spared the life of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooter in a 9-3 decision.

Florida law now states that a defendant may be sentenced to death if at least 8 of the 12 jurors recommend execution. 

State Attorney Brian Haas says all five of the victims‘ families support seeking the death penalty in this case. 

Prosecutors say they have more than 100 witnesses to call and Xaver's sentencing trial is expected to take several weeks.  

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