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.