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.


Anonymous said...

Your pathetic attempts at using this scumbags henious crimes, to remove the death penalty stinks of hypocrisy. This blog is a joke. The VAST majority of Americans want the death penalty for certain crimes, and the "throngs" of people at Rollins execution were not against the death penalty, but for it. To use these horrific crimes to push your political point of view is beyone pathetic!

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