Saturday, July 05, 2008


"The death penalty is about revenge and hate, and revenge and hate is why my daughter and those 167 other people are dead today."

Bud Welch, father of Julie Marie Welch,
victim in the Oklahoma City bombing

"I have come to believe that the death penalty is not what will help me heal. Responding to one killing with another killing does not honor my daughter, nor does it help create the kind of society I want to live in, where human life and human rights are valued. I know that an execution creates another grieving family, and causing pain to another family does not lessen my own pain."

MVFHR board member, Vicki Schieber, testifying to the Subcommittee on the Constitution,
Civil Rights and Property Rights; Committee on the Judiciary; US Senate, February 2006

Sunday, June 22, 2008

With killer executed, evidence to go up in flames

Convicted and sentenced to death in the killings, the 52-year-old Rolling was executed in October 2006 at Florida State Prison near Raiford. The evidence, which had been stored away over the years as his case made its way through the appeals process, was made public this week.

The Alachua County Sheriff's Office will burn everything in the next two weeks, ensuring the items do not get into the hands of collectors, said Lt. Steve Maynard, a spokesman for the office.

"There is zero opportunity for anything here to be sold on eBay," he said.

Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, Gainesville Police spokeswoman at the time of the murders, said she worked with the victims' family members to remove personal items such as checkbooks, jewelry and photographs.

She said she was glad to clear storage space of items that constitute one of the largest cases ever handled by the office.

"It feels good to have it taken care of and destroyed," she said.

Dianna Hoyt, stepmother of victim Christa Hoyt, said nothing would provide complete closure for families. But she said Rolling's execution has removed some of the pain from events that recall the murders.

"You can never have closure in the death of a loved one; you'll always remember that person," she said. "But now at least you know the terrible part is over with."

In August 1990, Rolling murdered five college students in their Gainesville apartments. The slain students were Sonja Larson, 18, of Deerfield Beach; Christina Powell, 17, of Jacksonville; Christa Hoyt, 18, of Archer; Manuel Taboada, 23, of Carol City; and Tracy Paules, 23, of Miami.

Their bodies were found over a three-day period at the start of the University of Florida's fall semester. The crimes and their gruesome nature -- some of the victims were mutilated and posed -- had students fleeing Gainesville and the news media descending upon the city.

Ten days after the killings, Rolling ended up in custody at the Marion County jail on robbery charges. It took another five months before police linked him to the killings through DNA evidence. During that period other suspects were investigated, including UF freshman Edward Humphrey.

Humphrey's fingernail scrapings and blood samples were among the remaining evidence. Scores of bags were filled with evidence that did not pan out, including a variety of knives.

"I think every knife that was lying in Gainesville was picked up and collected and returned to us," Hewitt said.

Rolling told police he disposed of a knife used in the murders in a barn on the UF campus. A video of an excavation of the site was among the evidence. The knife was never recovered.

A native of Shreveport, La., Rolling was a homeless drifter at the time of the killings. The evidence included a tent and other camping equipment recovered from the site where he lived in the woods behind what is now UF's Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

Among the items found at the site was an audio recording in which Rolling played guitar and concluded with these words: "Well, I'm gonna sign off for a little bit. I got something I gotta do."

The guitar was not recovered at the camp location, but tracked to a Sarasota man who had bought it from Rolling. The guitar was part of the remaining evidence.

Other items included a backpack found at a Mississippi campsite where Rolling stayed before committing a robbery there.

Rolling's crimes in other states were mostly limited to robberies and thefts, but were later found to include the August 1990 rape of a Sarasota woman and the November 1989 slayings of three Shreveport residents.

The Sarasota attack against Janet Frake occurred about a week before Rolling appeared in Gainesville. Frake was 30 at the time and lived alone. Rollins apparently entered her home through an unlocked window and waited inside for her.

"What I encountered that night was pure evil," Frake said in a 2006 interview. "That's what it was -- pure evil."

Also while in Sarasota, Rolling bought a pistol, jewelry and a pair of glasses that were found at his Gainesville campsite.

On Aug. 18, he checked into a Gainesville hotel -- eight days before the first of five bodies in the Gainesville murders was found.

As jury selection began in his murder trial in 1994, Rolling pleaded guilty.

He was sentenced to death and executed by lethal injection, an event that attracted throngs of protesters and national media attention.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Rolling execution closes chapter of area history


Sun staff writer

Danny Rolling is just a memory now.

More than 16 years ago, five college students were brutally slain in Gainesville during the first week of classes at the University of Florida. The crimes sent the community into a panic, and it would take nine anxious months before Rolling was publicly named as a suspect.

Long after he confessed and was sentenced to death, he would make headlines as his case crawled through the appeals process.

Now those stories will be fewer and Rolling will be discussed in the past tense.

"Instead of being a current event, it takes its place in local history," said Spencer Mann, who was spokesman for the Alachua County Sheriff's Office at the time of the murders. He now works for the State Attorney's Office and was a witness at Rolling's execution.

A 52-year-old native of Shreveport, La., Rolling was executed by lethal injection Oct. 25 at Florida State Prison near Raiford. The event attracted throngs of protesters and national media attention. The execution itself will be remembered for Rolling singing a hymn as his last statement and failing to apologize to his victims' families.

Dianna Hoyt, stepmother of victim Christa Hoyt, said even if Rolling would have apologized, she wouldn't have believed it was sincere. After years of dealing with appeals, she said the execution was a relief.

"The next day I woke up and I felt a tremendous burden had been lifted," she said.

She hopes the memory of Rolling will fade, but the community continues to remember the victims. The memorial wall on SW 34th Street provides a lasting reminder of their names: Sonja Larson, Christina Powell, Christa Hoyt, Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada.

Larson, 18, of Deerfield Beach, and Powell, 17, of Jacksonville, were the first to be found slain. The UF freshmen were discovered in their Williamsburg Village apartment on SW 16th Street on Aug. 26, 1990, the Sunday before classes started.

The next day, officers found the body of Hoyt, 18, of Archer. An Alachua County Sheriff's Office records clerk, she was found in the duplex apartment on SW 24th Avenue where she lived alone.

Two days later, the bodies of Paules and Taboada, both 23 and high school friends from Miami, were discovered in their Gatorwood apartment off Archer Road.

The horrific nature of the killings, which involved the mutilation and posing of the victims, shocked the community and sent UF students fleeing for home. The town was soon filled with law enforcement officers and reporters from across the nation.

Initially suspecting a UF freshman who exhibited bizarre behavior, police eventually turned their attention to Rolling. Ten days after the killing, Rolling had ended up in custody on robbery charges in Marion County. His DNA was later compared to crime scene evidence, proving police had the right man.

In 1994, Rolling entered a guilty plea as jury selection began in his trial. Nonetheless, he would appeal his death sentence on a variety of grounds over the next dozen years.

Rolling's attorney, Baya Harrison, handled his final appeal, arguing the lethal injection procedure was cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court's rejection of the appeal paved the way for the execution.

The execution by lethal injection appeared to be conducted without problems. But Harrison said Angel Nieves Diaz's Dec. 13 execution, which took two rounds of chemicals and appeared to cause Diaz to writhe in pain, has now caused him to question the whole process.

"I don't know whether Rolling suffered or not," he said.

Mann said he felt the execution was hardly comparable to the pain that Rolling inflicted.

"When you look at everything the families have been through and the community has been through, in a lot of respects the execution pales in comparison," he said.

Harrison said he was disappointed by Rolling's last statement, hoping his client would apologize to his victims. Instead, he sang a gospel hymn for two minutes.

"Thou art the alpha and omega. The beginning and the end. The sound of thy voice stills a mighty wind. None greater than thee oh Lord. None greater than thee," Rolling sang.

But Rolling did clear up one loose end before he died. Before the execution, he gave a note to his minister confessing to a 1989 triple slaying in Louisiana in which he was suspected but never convicted.

Julie Grissom, 24, her nephew Sean Grissom, 8, and her father Tom Grissom, 55, were found stabbed to death in their Shreveport home, almost a year before Rolling's deadly Gainesville crime spree.

Some of the family members of Rolling's victims had said repeatedly that the execution wouldn't provide closure, because the deaths of their loved ones would affect their lives forever.

But Hoyt said the execution did close the book on the killer's story.

"It did help ... a lot more than I thought it would," she said.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rolling's execution

Rolling's execution

It is a disturbing and sad irony that just after we witnessed the Amish's unquestioning compassion following schoolhouse murders, we saw newspaper images of people rejoicing and celebrating a day of revenge after Danny Rolling's execution.

Did we learn nothing from the Amish?

What lessons are we teaching our children?

Perhaps the difference lies in the one murderer taking his own life and the state having the power to put the other to death.

Regardless of how a murderer dies, an execution should surely be a time of reflection and sorrow.

Like the man who killed the Amish girls, Rolling had a mother.

Would the community ever have gone to her door step with comfort and solace?

This is not a time for the tribal celebration of victory.

Rolling, for all his sickness, was one of us.

It should be a somber act to bring about the end of another human being.

Execute him, Yes, and let justice prevail.

But reflect upon the gravity that such a decision brings.


Easy executions like Rolling's leave difficult questions for us to deal with

October 29, 2006 Florida

Easy executions like Rolling's leave difficult questions for us to deal with

Michael Mayo, Columnist, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

As I walked through Florida State Prison last week to witness Danny Rolling's execution, a Death Row inmate called me a killer.

"Murderers! All of you are murderers!" came the shout from a window as a dozen media witnesses and six prison officials boarded two vans to take us to the death chamber.

Takes one to know one, I felt like shouting back.

But during the one-minute ride from a prison wing to the death chamber, as we drove past the white hearse that would take Rolling's body off the grounds, I couldn't help but wonder if he had a point.

Across the road, some who came to cheer Rolling's execution held up placards with biblical passages supporting their position. "Whoever sheds man's blood by man, his blood shall be shed Genesis 9:6," said one sign.

So then what about the sixth commandment? Thou shalt not kill.

We kill.

We like to think we kill in the name of justice, not vengeance, with rigid burdens of proof and procedures, but it's killing just the same.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a suspension of the death penalty in1976, there have been 1,053 executions in the United States, including three last week.

There have been 63 in Florida.

I've seen two executions, of Rolling and Aileen Wuornos, in October 2002.

Witnessing the second was easier than the first, and the first was easier than I imagined.

That bothers me.

It also bothers me that instead of withering away in isolated obscurity, Rolling got a stage at the end. He went down singing, writing his own hymn for the occasion.

You should have seen the way we media witnesses painstakingly reconstructed the lyrics after the execution, trying to get our transcriptions consistent, as if his words were actually important.

A few days later, I still can't get his damn voice out of my head, still can't shake the melodic chorus of, "None greater than Thee, O Lord, none greater than Thee."I

t bothers me that Rolling got to enjoy the sweet, succulent taste of a lobster tail six hours before his death.

I don't know if my solution would be to deny a condemned person a last meal of his choosing, or to force him to eat decades of prison gruel until his heart gave out on his own.

All that's left after these easy executions are the tough questions.

Neither of the killers I saw die had much in the way of redeeming value.

Wuornos admitted to killing seven men.

Rolling admitted to killing five college students in Gainesville and a family of three in Shreveport, La. After doing the things that they did, a person probably should lose all rights and privileges in the human race, including breathing.

But is it society's place to bring that about?

It's an age-old issue. Nothing takes it from the abstract to the concrete like watching the color drain from the face of someone strapped to a gurney, seeing a chest heave one final breath.

The morning after Rolling's execution, I drove to Micanopy, a small town near Gainesville, to talk with Letha Prater. She was in the death chamber to witness Wuornos' execution four years ago. Wuornos killed her younger brother, Troy Burress, 50, in August 1990, the same month Rolling went on his killing spree.

Prater, 68, said she had no regrets about witnessing Wuornos' execution. Even though she admits it "probably was revenge," she said she found her death therapeutic."A cloud lifted off, a cloud just drifted away," said Prater, 68, a former Fort Lauderdale resident who moved to rural Central Florida in 1989.

"I was happy. I felt lighter. It didn't bring [my brother] back, but at least she paid for what she did."She said her brother was her best friend.

Burress, a pool maintenance man, moved from Delray Beach to Ocala in 1990 so he could be close to his sister. "When someone gets taken from you in a violent way, it makes you angry,"Prater said. After the execution she said her heart "wasn't quite as hard. Isent the hatred along with her."

About death penalty opponents, she said, "They say [capital punishment] is not civilized, that it's coming down to [the killers'] level. Well, you could never come down to their level. They massacre people. She shot my brother in the back."

According to Amnesty International, 129 countries have abolished the deathpenalty in law or practice, including most European nations, Canada and Mexico.

In 2005, according to Amnesty International, the countries with the most known judicial executions were China (at least 1,700), Iran (94),Saudia Arabia (86) and the United States (60).

"You wonder if most Americans know the company we're keeping," said MarkElliott of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, an abolitionistgroup.

Richard Dieter, executive director of the Death Penalty Information Center in Washington, D.C., said only about 10 percent of the approximately 3,400death row inmates in the United States will ever be executed."Who gets picked and why is not always clear," said Dieter, whose nonprofit group does not take an overall position on capital punishment but is critical of inconsistencies. "There's an unspoken agreement to have the death penalty, but not use it too much.

"Experts say death-penalty cases usually cost two to three times more than having someone imprisoned for life. "If the public knew what this really cost, they'd turn away from it," Elliott said. That day doesn't seem near.

According to an ABC News poll in July, 65 percent of Americans support the death penalty. A Gallup Poll in May found that 60 percent of Americans think it's applied fairly.They must not follow the news.

Earlier this decade, Illinois put a moratorium on the death penalty and all but emptied Death Row after a spate of exonerations raised serious questions about its use.

According to AmnestyInternational, 123 Death Row inmates in the United States have been released since 1973 after evidence emerged about their innocence. Florida has had the highest number of exonerations, 22.

But there are some cases, like Rolling's, where the death penalty seems fitting.
I used to strongly oppose capital punishment. Now I'm more ambivalent.

Maybe it's because I'm now a father of a little girl who turns 1 next month.

As I spent time with the relatives and friends of Rolling's victims the past two weeks, as I heard them describe their agony and saw their faces at the execution, I thought maybe they deserve this small satisfaction, even if itis retribution at its basest.

Tommy Carroll, who needed years of therapy after finding the mutilated and stabbed bodies of his childhood friends Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada in their Gainesville apartment, said, "For someone who maintains their innocence, when there are doubts or no DNA, I could see not having it. But for someone like Rolling, who admits his guilt, my only question is why it has to take so long?"

Maybe executing him does make us all murderers.

Maybe that's not all bad.---

Source : South Florida Sun-Sentinel

With Rolling's execution, vindication seemed out of grasp

Oct. 28

With Rolling's execution, vindication seemed out of grasp----A lawyer spent 16 years living under a shadow of suspicion.

Among the people standing vigil outside the prison at Danny Rollings execution Wednesday was Hal Carter, an Atlanta lawyer.

Carter hoped Rolling would confess to the murders nearly 17 years ago of Julie, Tom and Sean Grissom in Shreveport, La.

At the time of the killings, Carter was Julie Grissom's fiance.
He also became a suspect.

Now, he wanted the suspicion to end.

But at 6:30 p.m., when those outside learned that Rolling had sung a hymn and was then executed, Carter realized his name would continue to be connected to the Shreveport murders.

"I left despondent," he said.

"Neither I nor the Grissom family would ever have the certainty we needed."

When the Grissom murders took place in November 1989, dozens of TV broadcasts and newspapers said the police had named Carter as "the primary suspect."

Shunned, insulted and threatened, he closed down his prosperous Shreveport law practice and moved to Georgia, leaving family and friends.

"Not only was I destroyed over Julie's death, I was also falsely accused,"he said. "Worst of all, the real killer was free to strike again."

Rolling struck 9 months later in Gainesville. After the Gainesville murders, Grissom began his own investigation and discovered uncanny similarities between the 3 Shreveport murders and the 5 Gainesville murders.

Among the similarities: The murderer's rare bloodtype was the same at both crime scenes and the bodies were posed.

On Wednesday, as Carter stood in the field outside Florida State Prison in Starke with death penalty opponents, a sparrow fell from the sky at his feet. He held it through the execution, feeling its beating heart in his hands.

After the execution, he raised his hands in the air and the bird soared toward the sky."I took this as a sign that something good would happen," he said.

This thought was bolstered by a letter he had received from Rolling weeks before. Carter had written Rolling and asked for "the truth about the Grissom murders." Rolling had responded in writing, "You will be vindicated. My word."

But when people standing outside the prison learned that Rolling had said nothing, Carter realized his hopes had been dashed.

Rolling had gone to his death without keeping his word, or so Carter thought.

Until he got a phone call Thursday night.

It was Mike Hudspeth, the Shreveport pastor who had spent Wednesday with Rolling. He said he had asked Rolling to clear Carter's name and shortly before the execution Rolling had handed him a written statement."You'll be very pleased," Hudspeth told Carter.

Police would announce the confession in Shreveport on Friday morning, he said.

In a messy combination of cursive and print on a crumpled piece of paper, Rolling had written, "Hereby, I make a formal, written statement concerning the murder of Julie, Tom and Sean Grissom in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana.

Hal Carter, Julie Grissom's former fiance is 100% innocent totally pure of that crime. "

Carter was shocked.

He thanked Hudspeth and told him that the news had not only "changed a very sad day, but also the rest of my life."

Rolling's confession continued: "I and I alone am guilty. It is my hand that took those precious lights out of this old dark world. With all of my heart I wish I could bring them back. Being a native son of Shreveport, I can only offer this confession of deep felt remorse over the loss of such fine outstanding souls."

Back at his suburban Atlanta home, Carter said he spent all of Friday thanking God for this sudden, unexpected turn of events.

"I also thanked Danny," he said. "
I know he was a terrible killer, but he kept his word."

(source: St. Petersburg Times)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Executed killer claimed 3 more victims

SHREVEPORT, La. - Shortly before he was executed in Florida this week, serial killer Danny Rolling handed his spiritual adviser a handwritten confession to a grisly triple murder 17 years ago in his hometown of Shreveport, police said Friday.

Rolling, the son of a Shreveport police officer, was executed Wednesday for killing five college students in Gainesville, Fla., in a ghastly string of slayings in 1990.

In 1997, Rolling sent a detailed confession, including a description of the crime scene, to the woman he had married in prison. She gave it to police, said retired police detectives Don Ashley and Danny Fogger, who had worked on the case.

Still, police said was a relief to have a signed, public confession.

The document was released at a news conference Friday. Most of the text is in cursive, with large, gothic-style capitals at the start of each paragraph.

Rolling's death poses essential questions

By Jake Ramsey Editorial Notebook

Sixteen years ago, Danny Rolling killed five UF and SFCC students. He raped some, mutilated others and posed his victims' bodies to heighten the ghoulish effect of his crime scenes. The murders were nightmarish, surreal - in fact, Rolling always seemed more like a B-movie clichUa lunatic drifter out of central casting, than a flesh-and-blood human being.

Today he faces the sharp end of a government needle. Without a last-minute reprieve, he'll be dead by 6:15 p.m.

No one will shed a tear for Rolling - not the Alligator, not the student body and especially not the victims' families. They waited 16 years for this moment, almost the span of their loved ones' short lives, hoping to find some closure. Maybe they will.

But I won't rejoice in Rolling's death. I can't. For all his crimes, all his monstrous indifference to human feeling, he's still a person - a member of our species, whether we like it or not. Tonight, in a small room in Bradford County, armed guards will strap him to a table and kill him.

It's easy to oppose capital punishment when the man with the needle in his arm is an abstraction - a mug shot on the nightly news, a name in the morning paper. But when you see him up close, specifically, when he stops being one of 376 inmates on death row and becomes the one they're executing tonight, you want to push the plunger yourself.

It should be the other way around. But somehow it's not.

And so it is with Rolling. Like all murderers, he has victims, innocent people with families who miss them and want justice. But he's not like the other men in Florida State Prison, not really.

They killed cops, cheating lovers, gas station clerks - sometimes brutally, sometimes in cold blood, but not for kicks, for whimsy. Their offenses are in a different league.

In so many ways, Rolling stands alone, a test case for the death penalty. His guilt is beyond doubt. His crimes are heinous - even now, a decade and a half later, they've lost none of their power to shock and sicken. Worst of all, he shows no signs of genuine remorse. For once, the truism holds up: If anyone deserves a lethal injection, it's Danny Rolling.

But after the doctors pronounce him dead, after the reporters go home and everyone moves on to the next outrage, will we have gained anything by Rolling's execution?

His victims will still be dead. Their families will still face the unfathomable task of living without them. And long after Rolling has faded into anonymity, we'll still know that men like him are made of the same stuff as us - the same blood, the same guts. It's an ugly fact that no syringe can ever change.

We want him to die - I want him to die - because his existence is an obscenity, an affront to our humanity. But killing him won't make us clean again. So tonight, when the state hauls Rolling out of his cage and finishes him off, ask yourself: What is this supposed to accomplish?

Jake Ramsey is the Opinions editor of the Alligator.

Media frenzy descends on Rolling's execution site

Alligator Writer

Danny Rolling's high-profile execution Wednesday drew considerably more media than recent executions.

TV, radio and print journalists from across the state convened in Raiford, a small town of about 200 people, to gather details about the serial killer's lethal injection.

About 20 big white media vans, their satellites jutting toward the sky, sat parked in a large lot across the street from the execution chamber where Rolling lived his final minutes.

Parts of the parking lot were surrounded by barbed wire. Herds of cows grazed less than 200 yards away.

Kristen Guilfoos, a UF telecommunications junior covering the execution for WRUF-AM, called the press setup a "media affront."

"It's almost ridiculous," she said. "It's like a media circus. I mean, look at all the trucks."

Rory O'Neill, a reporter for the wire service Metro Networks, said no one was on the scene when he first arrived at noon. At the 3 p.m. press conference, he counted 17 cameras and about 50 reporters and camera operators.

Compared to other executions, he said, there was a much greater presence of media and protestors.

"I've never seen a crowd of supporters," said O'Neill. "If you talk to people, they're angry."

Bridget Murphy, a reporter for The Florida Times-Union, said she'd been at the scene since 3 p.m.

"Look at all of these trucks. I haven't seen it like this since Hurricane Charley," she said as she walked briskly to a press conference after Rolling's death. She called the group of TV trucks "satellite city."

Chris Tisch, a reporter for the St. Petersburg Times, walked to the press conference after he witnessed the execution. He was one of the few reporters who had a seat to witness the execution, along with reporters from The Associated Press, The Miami Herald, South Florida Sun-Sentinel and several TV stations.

He said 47 witnesses, including 12 media professionals, watched Rolling's lethal injection.

At the press conference, the victims' family members spoke at a lectern topped with a large cluster of news microphones.

Tisch scribbled on a white legal pad and another reporter seated on the ground typed feverishly on her laptop.

Diana Hoyt and Theresa Ann Garren, both barely tall enough to look over the lectern, spoke solemnly to the music of snapping cameras and scribbling pens. When the stepmother and mother of victim Christa Hoyt stopped talking, a cacophony of questions sounded out.

However, some photographers unfortunate enough to be in the back aimed their questions at reporters blocking their view.

"Down," they yelled. "C'mon, get down in front, please?"

Rolling Confessed To Other Murders Before He Was Executed

October 27, 2006 5:22 p.m. EST

Linda Young - All Headline News Staff Writer

Gainesville, FL (AHN) - Convicted serial murderer Danny Rolling cleared his conscience and a Louisiana cold case before he was executed by admitting to killing three people that authorities suspected he had committed.

Shortly before he was executed Rolling slipped his spiritual advisor a handwritten note confessing to a triple murder 17 years ago in Shreveport, La., his hometown.

But earlier in the week the former Shreveport lead investigator on the case told the Gainesville Sun he believed Rolling was responsible.

"I just have no doubt that he's the guy," said Don Ashley, 55, who now is an investigator for the Caddo Parish District Attorney's Office in Louisiana. "The only just punishment for him is him receiving the death penalty."

Rolling did receive the death penalty on Wednesday. In his one-page note he wrote: "I, and I alone am guilty" "It was my hand that took those precious lights out of this ole dark world....with all my heart and soul would I could bring them back."

Rolling, was the son of a Shreveport police officer. His execution on Wednesday was for killing five college students in Gainesville, Florida, in 1990.

Text of Danny Rolling's confession to Shreveport murders

(AP) — The text of executed killer Danny Rolling's confession to a triple murder in Shreveport, La., in 1989, the year before he killed five college students in Gainesville, Fla.

Spelling, punctuation and capitalization are Rolling's. Most of the text is in cursive, with large, gothic-style capitals at the start of each paragraph and in the word "By" in the third paragraph. Rolling's first signature, the names and all capitalized matter in the second section, and the entire last section are in print rather than cursive writing.

I know that sorrow, that heartfelt bane, that dross th' mortal flame. Stone 'pon stone th' final throw ... etched hither tow — th' captive soul.

• Danny Rolling
In order to fulfill all things that no stone be unturned. Here by I make a formal written statement concerning the murders of Julie, Tom & SEAN GRISSOM in my hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana ... HAL CARTER, Julie Grissom's former fiancee is 100% INNOCENT — TOTALLY PURE of that crime. I, and I alone am guilty. It was my hand that took those precious lights out of this ole dark world. With all my heart & soul would I could bring them back. Being a native son of Shreveport, I can only offer this confession of deep felt remorse over the loss of such fine — outstanding souls.

Have wept an ocean of tears ... By which mournful doth float 'pon a sea of regret.
_Danny Rolling

Among the Lowest of the Dead

There was a lot of discussion in the boodle this morning (see comments on previous item) about the death penalty. Yesterday Danny Rolling, the serial killer, was executed for the 1990 student slayings in Gainesville. In the end, he left it to his attorney to pass along an apology to the families. He chose to sing a hymn instead.

Back in 1991 I went to Gainesville to report on the aftermath of the murders. At that point the murders were officially unsolved, but Rolling had been named as a suspect. Many Gainesville residents told me they didn't think Rolling could have done it -- he wasn't smart enough. They were expecting a criminal mastermind. They were expecting Dracula.

There's a tendency to imagine these killers as being rather smarter and more gothic, shall we say, than they really are. A lot of this is media-driven, a Hollywood fantasy. We think of a serial killer, we think of Hannibal Lecter. Even Ted Bundy was romanticized (played on TV by Mark Harmon back when he was People's Sexiest Man Alive). Rolling was a two-bit loser, a bit of a bumbler. Homicide doesn't actually require any special genius. There's also a tendency in the media to underplay, or ignore completely -- for whatever reason -- the sexual sadism that almost invariably motivates these killers.

(Note: The headline on this item comes from a book about Death Row in Florida, written by my friend and colleague David von Drehle.)
Actual exchange of messages:

Achenbach: No one will remember me when I'm dead.

Weingarten: Now, now. That's not true. There will be a period of time between your death and funeral when people will remember you. People who have to speak at the funeral, for example.
By Joel Achenbach October 26, 2006; 12:51 PM ET

Column: Each execution makes us face hard questions

George Diaz
October 27, 2006

Danny Rolling is dead, but I suspect it's impossible to bury the pain for the families of his five victims.

A handful of them were witness to his execution Wednesday. Perhaps they found a measure of comfort in the sting of a lethal injection coursing through Rolling's veins. Others would argue that a greater punishment would be to allow him to rot away in a small cell, never, ever drawing a breath of air as a free man.

We have yet to define what constitutes moral justice for barbarians such as Rolling.

The death-penalty option offers a disturbing peek into our souls, serving as a litmus test on the concept of forgiveness.The dark side tugs at me whenever I read about the despicable crimes of Rolling and society's other misfits. Rolling stabbed, mutilated, decapitated and posed his victims.

If one of the victims had been close to me, my first reaction would be to beg for 10 minutes alone with Rolling in a room, where I let rage and hatred rush through every vein in my body.

But my conscience always creeps in, warning me that if I succumb to all those emotions, I am no different from the beasts who kill for the sake of sport and visceral satisfaction.

Societal protocol mandates that we allow the government to do our bidding when it comes to justice. In Florida, the ultimate payback is the death penalty. We are one of 38 states that allow executions.

You could argue that a lethal injection is more humane than beating someone to a lifeless pulp, but ultimately, the results are the same. It takes us back to the moral dilemma:

Will finding forgiveness in our hearts bring greater peace than seeing a man die for his sins?

Trying to reconcile the conflict between sin and spirituality is a personal choice. Finding answers becomes harder whenever an execution escalates into the tawdry madness that revolved around Rolling.

Interest in Rolling memorabilia spiked during the past week on the Internet, where various auction sites sell items created by the criminally infamous. On execution day, there was the usual bickering among those who detest the death penalty and those who embrace it wholeheartedly.

My guess is that each group is a minority, with many of us trapped in an emotional middle ground.

"I don't have the answers," said Chuck Seubert, a friend who was a New York City policeman for 16 years. "In some cases, the death penalty can't be given quick enough. In other cases, it's given too quickly.

"Jumping through all the legal hoops delayed justice for 16 years in Rolling's case. He murdered those people in Gainesville in 1990. That is frustratingly absurd.

The cost of executing a prisoner, factoring in appeals and other expenses, is far greater than keeping him or her in a cell for a lifetime. And studies have proved conclusively that the death penalty is not a deterrent.

It leads us to the spectacle of Rolling's final hours. He ate a meal of lobster, shrimp, a baked potato, cheesecake and sweet tea before he was eventually strapped to a gurney with a white sheet covering everything but his face, neck and right arm.

Some may call this closure. Others will tell you it only opens a window into our soul. The view can be conflicting, if not disturbing.

George Diaz can be reached at 407-420-5533 or

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Crowd was a study of contrasts

Sun staff writer

STARKE - The contrast between the two groups assembled in the field across from Florida State Prison couldn't have been greater.

On one side of a rope line, about 60 people cheered the execution of Gainesville serial killer Danny Rolling. A few people lit cigars at news of his death and waved signs, such as one reading "Finally . . . kill the killer."

On the other side, a slightly larger group prayed and sang hymns in opposition to the death penalty. Near a sign reading "We remember the victims . . . but not with more killing," some wept at word of the execution.

Perhaps none of those assembled embodied the split more than Jim and Matthew Niblack.

Jim, 54, of Gainesville said his 18-year-old son, Matthew, wanted to see the scene outside the execution, so they drove up together. Once they arrived, Jim joined the section of opponents and his son headed the other way.

"There should be no such thing as the death penalty if you don't do it for him," said Matthew, a Williston High School student.

His father said he believed executions drag the state down to the level of a murderer.

"You really doing the same that they've done," he said.The scene outside the prison recalled the 1989 execution of Ted Bundy, which drew a cheering crowd of more than 100 people and throngs of state and national reporters. In more recent executions, dozens of death penalty opponents have gathered but there have generally been just a few, if any, supporters.

Roy Brown, 55, of Tampa is the one regular among supporters. Brown's 7-year-old daughter was murdered, and the man convicted for the crime is on Death Row and now appealing his sentence.

"This is good for me - to see all these people come out here," he said. "If people don't come from Gainesville, they're some sorry dogs."Gainesville resident Bonnie Flassig has attended execution protests for years. She said the attention around Rolling's execution overshadowed the problems with some of the other 61 executions since the death penalty was reinstated in Florida.

"We like to think of Danny Rolling and Ted Bundy as the poster boys of why we need the death penalty," she said. "There are 61 others that I certainly wouldn't call the worst of the worst.

"While family members of Rolling's victims assembled inside the prison, some friends of those victims joined the crowds outside. Tonya Wilson, 34, of Newberry said she was supposed to be the roommate of victims Sonja Larson and Christina Powell during the semester they were killed.

"I'm so glad that this day is here," she said. "Finally we're going to get some kind of justice."Atlanta attorney Hal Carter, 56, said he once dated Julie Grissom, one of Rolling's victims in the Louisiana killings for which he was never prosecuted. Carter said he came to show that someone who was close to a victim could still oppose the death penalty.

"Whether it's by Danny Rolling or the state, it's murder," he said.

Before the execution, some family members were critical about the protesters and news media attention given to Rolling. Chealea Neckler, the 17-year-old niece of victim Christa Hoyt, said seeing protesters was the hardest part of the day.

"I feel like they don't know the story," she said. "They didn't live it."

Mario Taboada, the 45-year-old brother of victim Manuel Taboada, said he hoped the news media would focus on the victims rather than Rolling.

"I don't think he deserves this much attention," he said.He was also critical of an independent horror movie about the murders, "The Gainesville Ripper," which is now being filmed. Director Josh Townsend was in the crowd outside the prison, getting footage he said he will use at the end of the movie.

The former Gainesville resident said he changed the names of the victims and other details out of respect for the victims' families.

"That's the best we could do to be respectful and still tell the story," he said.

Other Gainesville residents who assembled outside the prison said they came to see the conclusion of a story that they experienced firsthand.

Retired University of Florida sports management professor Owen Holyoak, 73, sat in a lawn chair and listened to a radio headset for news about the execution. He said he remembered that students stopped attending his and other classes in fall 1990 because of the fear surrounding the murders. "It just had a profound effect on me when it happened," he said.

Sitting among the execution supporters, he said, "just seemed like the thing to do to try to get some closure."

Matthew Niblack said he was just a small child at the time of the killing, but wanted to attend the protests just the same. But he said his first visit to the field across from Florida State Prison will also be his last."I'm not coming to another one again," he said.

Nathan Crabbe can be reached at 338-3176 or

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

UF alumni share thoughts about Rolling execution

Angela Sachitano
Last updated on: 10/25/2006 6:23:14 PM

GAINESVILLE: After spending the last 12 years on death row, convicted killer Danny Rolling was executed Wednesday. He pleaded guilty to murdering five students at the University of Florida 16 years ago. Two Fort Myers residents who attended the University of Florida at the time of the murders were willing to share their stories.

The crime spree left residents of Gainesville, and those around much of the state, in fear for several weeks. Florida Governor Jeb Bush says he regrets it has taken so long for Rolling to be put to death.

"He is the poster child, if you will, of why there should be a death penalty; atrocious crimes committed. It's more than appropriate for him to receive the sentence he received," said Bush.

Many people say that it is hard to comprehend what it would have been like for the thousands of students living in Gainesville at the time of the murders. One Fort Myers couple says that they were around when it all happened and they were willing to share their story.

Though it has been 16 years since the murders took place, former University of Florida students Lee and Stefanie Cutshall say that the memories still haunt them.

"It happened day after day. You were in shock, in a stop mode," said Lee.

The murders happened during the first week of fall classes. At a time when football and fraternity parties were on the minds of most American college students, Lee and Stefanie, and thousands of others in Gainesville, were locking their doors, staying inside, and some left Gainesville all together.

"They said they were all petite brunettes and mom said, 'You are a brunette.' That's when they made the phone call to come home for a while," said Stefanie.

Stefanie left Gainesville, but Lee stayed only to learn about a fourth victim. He says it was someone he knew - the next door neighbor of his best friend.

"He called me and told me they had found his neighbor, it was that girl. That's when you realize how close it is, how personal it is," said Lee.

On Wenesday, the day of Rolling's execution, even though it is 16 years later, the Cutshalls say they sill have no pity for Rolling.

"What he did was cruel and unusual. It was vicious. What they are doing to him, lethal injection, that's too humane," said Stefanie.

Though that chapter of their life will soon have some closure, the Cutshalls say that the bond shared between all University of Florida students will never die.

"People still honor them. It's one of those things that is important to the history of Gainesville," said Stefanie.

Rolling was the third inmate to be put to death in five weeks.