Victims' families struggle with reminder of murders
Alligator File PhotoState Attorney Rod Smith holds up a knife during court deliberation in the trial of Danny Rolling.
By Matthew Boedy Alligator Staff Writer
Eleven years is the average stay for an inmate on Death Row. For Daniel Harold Rolling - inmate No. 521178 at the Florida State Prison in Starke - the years have been a combination of attempts to prolong his life and create what some call a serial killer persona for his legacy.
When he is not in solitary confinement, he eats in his 6-by-9-foot cell at 5 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and has supper at 4 p.m. He showers every other day.
The showers and the hour he spends outside in the prison yard each day may allow him to exhibit humanity. The $55 a day the state spends to keep Rolling alive is considered humane.
But there are some who say that police, when they arrested the Louisiana drifter for the brutal murders of five Gainesville college students, had no idea of the evil they had corralled.
John Philpin, a novelist who co-authored a book about the 1990 murders, said when he talked with Rolling on the phone, Rolling attempted to reveal some compassion.
"He made an effort to be very charming," Philpin said. "I very quickly realized everything with this man was a manipulation."
Philpin said, unlike other serial killers, Rolling has not been able to hold on to the image of the star stalker he would like. Rolling continues to write poetry that appears on his former fianc�e's Web site and even grants an interview every now and then. But his legacy among the most violent killers has been overshadowed by the lives he took.
Philpin said the persona Rolling has created out of his constant insinuation that he has multiple personalities just does not fit with the premeditated crimes he committed.
"There is no history-making going on here," Philpin said. "He works at making his own legend."
Those who knew the victims want to leave Rolling no more chances to speak; no more chances to have his name in the headlines.
And many family members of Rolling's victims say they are angered that Rolling is still alive six years after confessing to the five murders.
"He has had 10 years they didn't have," said Alison Monahan, who was Christina Powell's best friend. "Ten years is more than half of Christi's life."
Monahan, now a second-year law student at UF, said she understands the importance of the appeals process but argues that it could be streamlined to administer justice more quickly to future Death Row inmates.
In the meantime, Monahan said, seeing Rolling on television and in the newspapers is a painful reminder of her friend's murder. She sees Rolling as a methodical manipulator, pointing to his testimony this summer that he is "not a monster."
"That was totally designed for the six o'clock TV spot," she said.
State Attorney Rod Smith, who prosecuted Rolling, said justice sometimes moves slower than some would like.
"It's unconscionable that a murderer that has confessed to such a heinous crime and is sentenced to death still has appeals left," he said.
But his appeal process is not lengthy by Death Row standards, said Carolyn Snurkowski, head of criminal appeals for the Florida Attorney General's Office.
Rolling was sentenced to die in 1994 after confessing to the murders. The Florida Supreme Court upheld his sentence in March of 1997 and denied a second appeal three months later. In November of that year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear his appeal.
In July of this year, Rolling returned to a Gainesville courtroom, testifying that he did not receive a fair sentencing because of his lawyers' incompetence.
Circuit Judge Stan Morris is mulling over Rolling's challenge. If he denies the challenge, Rolling can appeal to the state Supreme Court. If that court refuses to entertain the appeal, he can take his case to federal court, starting a new round of appeals.
"This is a normal process available to all Death Row inmates,
" Snurkowski said.
Alligator staff writer Andrew Marra contributed to this report.