December 4, 2017
The murders happened on August 21, 2007, at a house on John Anderson Highway in Flagler Beach. William Gregory, 24 at the time, walked in on his ex-girlfriend Skyler Dawn Meekings, 17, and her boyfriend of two months, Daniel Arthur Dyer, 22, as they slept together, and shot them both at close range with a shotgun. A 1-year-old child Gregory had with Meekins was sleeping in a bedroom nearby.
He was tried, found guilty, and in 2011, sentenced to death in the culmination of a case that had drawn such notoriety locally that it was moved to Volusia County. It eas tried before Circuit Judge William A. Parsons.
But the jury’s recommendation for death in 2011 was by the slimmest possible margin of 7-5, back when Florida was one of just two states that still allowed death sentences to be imposed after less than a unanimous jury verdict. That changed less than two years ago, when U.S. Supreme Court and Florida Supreme Court decisions found Florida’s method of sentencing defendants to death unconstitutional.
Recommendations must now be unanimous. In Gregory’s case, the Supreme Court in August threw out his death sentence and returned the case to circuit court in Flagler County for a new sentencing phase.
That would have meant an elaborate process, similar to a trial, involving pre-trial hearings, the impaneling of a jury, the questioning of witnesses at a sentencing hearing
and jury deliberations. In other words it would have meant bringing back Meekins’s family to relive those events again.
It would have also raised other procedural issues Gregory’s attorney raised in 2016, claiming there would have been grounds for a mistrial in the original case.
Monday morning, Circuit Court Judge Dennis Craig commuted Gregory’s death sentence to life in prison without parole on both counts.
“We looked at the case and and consulted with the family,” Assistant State Attorney Jason lewis said. “They did not want to go through the process again.” So the prosecution agreed to a commutation in what amounted to a hearing lasting all of five minutes. Gregory had been brought in from his death row cell at the state prison near Raiford.
“We’d have to basically do a whole new penalty phase,” Lewis said, “and we take the family’s wishes very seriously. That’s what they wanted.”
The families’ positions were no mystery, as Daniel Dyer’s big sister had expressed it in her statement to the court before the 2011 sentencing: “The worst thing about Dan’s death,” she wrote, “is the way he died. He didn’t die in an accident or a health condition. He was murdered by a cowardly little twit. He was such a coward that instead of confronting Dan, like a real man, he crept in the dark into Skyler’s room, and shot them both in the head while they were asleep. The wounds were so horrible that we couldn’t even have an open casket for Dan so we could see him one last time.”
She had asked for the death penalty. “He had the right to a judge and jury,” she’d written, “but what about Dan and Skyler’s rights? They had no judge, no jury, only a 12-gauge shotgun to the head while they slept.” Using Gregory’s nickname, she went on: “And what has Billy done this entire time? He shows no remorse, no sorrow, he just sits there, so arrogant, that somehow he thought he ws smart enough to get away with it, that he had the right to play God and kill 2 innocent people. Foe what? The simple fact that Skyler had left him for a real man.”
The families of the victims were not in court this morning. But Skyler’s aunt Deborah Meekins had written the court six years ago that while she had never been much for the death penalty, “what I do know–Billy is all for it. Billy sentenced Skyler and Dan to the death penalty, right there, that night, as they slept together alone for the first time.”
Skyler’s father, Hap Meekins, had written of his daughter in 2011: “Skyler was very talented. A straight-A student with ambition. But the thing that I remember the most was her dedication toward anything she did. Being the youngest of three girls did not matter. Like the summer she spent fishing on the Pier. The three girls would spend hours fishing for King Fish. She caught a 30-lb. King Fish which didn’t go over well with her sisters. She never minded getting her hands dirty whether it was fishing, playing soccer, or helping me with the garden. She was very unselfish; she would help me [with] anything I asked.” And he’d concluded: “My memories will keep me going for the rest of my life. I love you Skyler always and forever. No one can take that away.”