Danny Rolling

Danny Rolling

Miami Herald File

Gainesville wasn’t always a bustling college town.

Through the 1980s, it was a sleepier place — with a growing number of gruesome, violent crimes.

The city led the country in reported rapes. A University of Florida professor was beaten and suffocated with a bag of ice while his killers sat near his body and ate dinner. Another man walked into a fast-food restaurant, herded employees into the freezer, shot them and locked them in.

And in 1990, the town moved from strange Florida crimes to Ted Bundy-esque serial murders.

On Aug. 24, 1990, Danny Rolling brutally murdered his first two victims — UF freshmen Sonja Larson and Christina Powell.

He didn’t stop there. The next day he broke into another apartment and murdered college student Christa Hoyt.

The spree ended with Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada, who were the last college students to die at the hands of Rolling, on Aug. 27.

Rolling earned the tile of “Gainesville Ripper,” as he bound most the bodies, raped three of the girls, sexually posed some of them and cut off one of the girls’ heads and mounted it on a shelf.

He was later executed after a manhunt and another man almost taking the fall after being thought to be the killer for nearly a year.

Here is a look back through the Miami Herald archives on the twisted and heartbreaking Gainesville murders that shocked the nation and paralyzed a town with fear.


Published Aug. 29, 1990

Two students from Dade were found slain Tuesday, the fourth and fifth victims of a savage killer whose rampage has transfixed this university town with terror.

As frightened students abandoned Gainesville for the safety of their hometowns, dozens of lawmen poured in, and state officials briefly considered closing the state’s flagship university.

The bodies of University of Florida students Tracey Paules, 23, of Palm Springs North and Manuel Taboada, 23, of Carol City were found about 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in a ground-floor unit at the Gatorwood Apartments, about a half-mile from the campus.


Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada, both victims of Gainesville, FL murderer Danny Rolling in 1990.

Miami Herald file

The killings follow the ghastly murders of three young Gainesville-area women over the weekend. The three college students were slaughtered and mutilated in their own apartments.

“It’s clear this part of the country has some maniac on the loose,” said UF President John Lombardi.

“We have every reason to believe that all five victims are all connected to one suspect or two suspects,” said Gainesville Police Chief Wayland Clifton.

News of the latest killings hit this nervous town like a sledgehammer.

“We slept with steak knives last night,” said a weeping Stacie Green, 19, a junior from Jacksonville who found out about the latest murders when she rode her bike past the crime scene Tuesday. “I need to call my mom. This is unreal.”

The latest victims were discovered after a friend, concerned that they hadn’t been seen lately, asked a maintenance man to check on them.

Taboada and Paules lived in an apartment at the rear of the Gatorwood complex. Christina P. Powell, 17, and Sonja Larson, 18, the two roommates discovered slain Sunday at Williamsburg Village Apartments, also lived in a rear apartment. Both complexes are on the edge of wooded areas.

The third victim, Christa Hoyt, 18, was found Monday morning in her secluded apartment off a sandy road.

There was no sign of forced entry at Williamsburg Village, authorities said. All the complexes are occupied primarily by students.

Gatorwood Apartments, shaded by pines and cloaked in Spanish moss, is just outside the city limits, between the other two slaying sites.

Sources close to the investigation said the first three victims were killed and mutilated by a very sharp knife or surgical instrument, and one of them was decapitated.

Lt. Spencer Mann of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Department said there was no apparent sign of mutilation on the two latest victims, but both bodies suffered severe wounds, which he would not discuss.

Clifton said police believe Tuesday’s victims were slain after the other three women.

David LeRoi, 21, of Ocala spent Sunday night in the apartment directly above the one occupied by Taboada and Paules. About 3 a.m., he said, “I heard a scream and a loud crash. I poked my head out in the hall but didn’t see anything.”

It is one of Florida’s most intense manhunts in memory, with more than 80 investigators working the case, including state investigators and FBI agents.

Gov. Bob Martinez sent 50 state troopers, 20 Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents and two FDLE crime labs to Gainesville on Tuesday. Among the state investigators were 16 agents skilled in psychological profiles, including some who worked the Ted Bundy killings at Florida State University more than a decade ago.

All vacations have been canceled for the 65 sworn officers on the UF campus police force, and 13 part-time officers have been called in, said department spokeswoman Angie Tipton.

The show of force did little to soothe fears. With Tuesday’s grisly discovery, the undercurrent of fear shot to near-panic levels, and many students packed their bags.

“I don’t want to get dropped from classes. I don’t want to fall behind. But my life is more important,” said Michelle Jones, 19, a junior from Satellite Beach who said she was going home Tuesday.

Suzanne Schneider, 18, a junior from Plantation, lives two blocks from Gatorwood. “I’m just going to go home,” she said. “If the numbers keep mounting, I’m not coming back.”

Joe Colucci of Davie drove to Gainesville on Monday night to stay with his daughter Jennifer, a freshman at UF. “If they don’t discover the person by the weekend, I’m taking her home,” he said.

A run on concealed weapons permits quickly developed. The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office reported that nearly 50 people had applied for the $144 permits since Monday.

UF accommodated the sudden exodus by announcing that tests would be suspended and class changes would be permitted without penalty until Sept. 7.

University officials considered, then decided against, closing the school. It’s possible, they said, that the killer may already have moved on — and closing one campus would not prevent a killer from moving to another.

“The university thought long and hard about suspending classes,” said Lombardi. But the administration decided that many students could not return home, and it would be best to keep the campus operating and provide the best possible security and safety.

Chancellor Charles Reed authorized the presidents of the other eight state universities to spend whatever is necessary to keep their campuses safe.

At nearby Santa Fe Community College, where the third victim was a student, students were told they were free to return home without academic penalty until Sept. 10.

Arrangements also were being made for quick hookup of all the new telephones that a flood of arriving students have ordered in Gainesville. Southern Bell dispatched 20 extra workers to the area to open lines of communication between students and their families.

University housing cannot accommodate all 35,000 students at UF. Housing director James Grimm said 6,400 single students and 1,000 families occupy campus housing. Another 1,500 students live in fraternity and sorority houses. The remainder live off campus.

“We have opened 232 bed spaces in (residence-hall) lounges for women,” Grimm said. “The fraternity houses are having friends move in informally.”

Herald staff writers Elinor Brecher, Mark Silva and Ellen McGarrahan contributed to this report.


Published Aug. 30, 1990

Among them, they’ve tracked some of the nation’s most notorious murderers: Ted Bundy, Charles Manson and David “Son of Sam” Berkowitz.

Now about 100 local, state and federal investigators are working together “like a Swiss watch,” in the words of the Gainesville police chief, tracking one of the most brutal and bizarre multiple killers in Florida history.

Because of the split jurisdiction between county and city, two local officers are leading the investigation: Gainesville Police Lt. Richard Ward, a 24-year veteran who is chief of detectives, and Alachua County Sheriff’s Capt. Robert “Andy” Hamilton, a 19-year veteran in charge of the county’s criminal investigations division.

Is the effort paying off?

“We are narrowing our focus,” said Wayland Clifton, Gainesville police chief. “That’s not to say we have strong suspects, but every minute that passes we have stronger and stronger leads.”

Among the other leaders in the case are Len Register, the county’s state attorney, and J.O. Jackson, chief of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Gainesville office. Both men helped convict Ted Bundy for the 1978 murder of Kimberly Leach of Lake City.

Twenty agents from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and two mobile crime labs have been sent to Gainesville to assist in the investigation. Among their priorities: assemble a psychological profile of the killer.

One of the two psychological profile experts assisting from the FBI is John Douglas, who has worked investigations involving Bundy, Manson and Berkowitz.


Published Sept. 2, 1990

While attention focused on a teen-age college freshman held in jail on an assault charge, police cautioned Saturday that they have not narrowed their investigation of five murders here to any one suspect.

Edward Lewis Humphrey, 18, of Indialantic, Fla., held in the Brevard County Jail on a charge of beating his 79-year-old grandmother, has been described by police as one of the best suspects in the Gainesville murders last week. But Humphrey remains “one of a pool” of more than 10 possible suspects, police said Saturday, and Humphrey has in no way become “their prime suspect.”

“I cannot tell you who is going to stay the best suspect,” said Lt. Sadie Darnell, a spokesman for the task force of city, county, state and federal agents investigating the five gory murders of college students in their southwest Gainesville apartments.

“We are not going to get locked into any one suspect,” she said.

And, although it appears that all five murders are the work of one killer, investigators have not ruled out the possibility they were unconnected.

“We’ve had five murders. They appear to be connected. They may not be. We do not know with any certainty that they are connected.”

Investigators still had not sought a search warrant that Humphrey occupied in Gainesville. Police already have searched the trash outside the Hawaiian Village apartments, but wouldn’t say what they had found or why they haven’t gone into the apartment yet.

A search warrant is a natural event in the course of an investigation, they said, and they haven’t reached that point with Humphrey yet.

“I think there’s an impression out there that we are fixing to serve an arrest warrant on someone, and that’s not the case,” said Lt. Spencer Mann of the Alachua County Sheriff’s office. “There’s been an assumption by the news media, I think, that this investigation has narrowed down to one, two or three suspects and that’s just not the case. To say that one person is a hot suspect over any other person would be totally incorrect.”

Still, investigators were still allowing only residents into the Hawaiian Village apartments Saturday and kept Humphrey’s apartment sealed off.

Also, Darnell said investigators had talked to Humphrey’s brother, George, who also lives in Gainesville. She did not say what information was obtained.

Humphrey remained in an isolation cell 170 miles away at the Brevard County Jail in Sharpes, held under $1 million bond on the assault charge against his grandmother.

Police say among the other possible targets of the investigation is Warren Tinch, 58, who is wanted by the FBI in connection with the stabbing death and mutilation of a 52-year- old Ohio woman.

On Friday, FBI agents carried pictures of Tinch to an Ocala, Fla., car dealership, where five employees identified him as the man who posed as a doctor and stole a van 16 days ago.

Another possible suspect was Stephen Bates, who is being held in Polk County in a burglary and assault case and had talked about the case after his arrest. Polk authorities said Bates was questioned at length Thursday.

At least three of the five victims — students at either the University of Florida or Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville — were stabbed to death in off-campus apartments in three attacks discovered since last Sunday. Police said three of the four women were mutilated.

In Brevard County, two Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents maintained a vigil under a oak tree across the street Saturday from Humphrey’s home and 1978 four-door Cadillac but by midday had made no move to search the vehicle or the home.

“If they had probably cause for a search warrant you would think they would have served it by now,” said public defender J.R. Russo, who visited the house Saturday morning.

Throughout the morning, a steady stream of curious onlookers turned down Shore Line Circle, turning around in the cul de sac.

Humphrey lived in the plantation-style house, on the Intracoastal Waterway in the well-to-do neighborhood just outside Indialantic, with his mother and grandmother.

Acquaintances said that Humphrey was a normal adolescent who underwent a radical personality change during high school. He was in an accident about two years ago in which he was ejected from a moving car and had a long recuperation. Last year, the car he was driving slammed into a telephone pole on a street near his house. He went through the windshield and his face was badly scarred.

After graduation from high school in May, Humphrey went to Gainesville for the first summer session and lived for a while at Gatorwood Apartments, where two bodies were found Tuesday. He skipped the second summer session and was seen back around Indialantic, where his flashes of rage were evident to the neighbors.

Two weeks ago, Evangeline Webster, who lives next door with her daughter, Donna, saw Humphrey screaming and swearing at the top of his lungs. The target of his anger was a letter he held in his trembling hands.

Webster had no idea what was in the letter, only that it made Humphrey explode.

“One minute he was telling me about going into the military, about maybe getting married and things like that,” she said. “Then he was cursing and screaming . . . at the mailbox because of some letter or something.”

Another day he vented his rage at his grandmother. “She came to our house, and she was screaming to call 911, screaming he was threatening to kill her and his mother, he was going to cut the phones lines and kill them all,” said Donna Webster, who was his baby-sitter when he was a child.

He was back in Gainesville last week and enrolled at the university as a part-time student, renting an apartment in the Hawaiian Village complex, within three miles of all the murder sites.

Randy Moore, chief trial lawyer for the public defender’s office, wants Humphrey to get a psychological evaluation. He talked to him for 30 minutes Friday in regard to the beating case.

“He acts like he’s out of it. He acts like somebody who isn’t functioning properly. He’s impaired in some way,” he said.

The family told him Humphrey had been on lithium, a drug often prescribed to control manic-depressive behavior, which in its most extreme form brings psychosis.

“He’s not processing information like someone who is in control,” Moore said.


Published Jan. 25, 1991

The new prime suspect in the slaying of five college students in Gainesville is a Louisiana policeman’s son picked up a week after the murder spree for holding up a Winn-Dixie with a gun in neighboring Marion County.

Danny Harold Rolling, 36, who has been in the Marion County Jail in Ocala since his Sept. 7 arrest, recently attracted the attention of a task force investigating the vicious Gainesville murders, a source close to the probe has confirmed.


Danny Rolling

Miami Herald File

“He is the task force’s main guy, that’s a guarantee,” the source said.

Those playing a pivotal role in the massive state investigation remain cautious and have hesitated to claim a major breakthrough. While the task force has zeroed in on Rolling, there are still other suspects.

Thursday afternoon, authorities from three agencies converged at the Ocala jail and served a search warrant on Rolling to take blood and other samples, the source said. Four other Florida investigators were in Shreveport.

Tissue samples already taken from Rolling for DNA analysis showed marked similarities to samples taken from the apartments of the victims, but the tests are not conclusive yet, the source said.

The tests, which should be completed next week, are crucial because all the murders took place inside locked apartments and there are no witnesses, except the killer or killers.

Immediately after the search warrant was served, the public defender’s office in Ocala told authorities they were not to question Rolling again, regardless of whether he permits it. His lawyers do not feel Rolling — convicted of armed robbery in two states and wanted in a third for shooting his father — is mentally competent, according to court records.

Rolling’s father, a retired career patrolman in Shreveport, kicked his son out of the house at age 15 because the teen wanted to wear blue jeans to church, his mother, Claudia Rolling, said in a recent letter to a Florida judge.

“Danny was an abused child from the day he was born,” she wrote. “My husband was jealous of him. He never wanted me to hold him or show love to him. He was told from the time he could understand that he would be dead or in jail by the time he was 15. His self-esteem was destroyed by his dad’s constant belittling.”

Rolling is the second major suspect to emerge in the five- month investigation. The first suspect — Edward Humphrey, now confined to a state mental hospital after beating his grandmother — was never charged and is no longer considered a prime target of the task force.

Rolling has spent most of the past decade in prison for holding up grocery stores in Georgia and Mississippi. He also is wanted in his hometown of Shreveport for shooting his father in the face and stomach last May.

The father, James Rolling, is still recovering from the shooting that followed a feud with his son in their home. James Rolling spent about a month in the hospital and remains under a doctor’s care. Police have charged the son with attempted murder.

The slaying of five students in three days came at the opening of the fall semester at the University of Florida. Two roommates — one 17, the other 18 — were the first victims in the ritualistic knife killings. The bodies of Christina Powell and Sonja Larson were found Aug. 26 in their southwest Gainesville apartment.

The next day, the badly mutilated body of 18-year-old Christa Hoyt was found before dawn. And on Aug. 28, Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada, both 23, became the fourth and fifth victims, although the death ritual at their apartment was cut short. Police surmise the muscular Taboada may have surprised the killer or struggled with him.

Ten days later, Rolling was arrested about 30 miles south of Gainesville.

Rolling was picked up after the broad-daylight armed robbery of a Winn-Dixie in Ocala. According to court records, Rolling “held a gun to store manager Randall Wilson’s head, demanding all the money in the store.”

On Sept. 17, Rolling was arraigned before Circuit Judge John Futch. Asked whether he had an attorney, Rolling replied: “No sir. I don’t need one. I am guilty.”

He later pleaded guilty and faces more than 15 years in prison. On Sept. 24, prosecutor John Moore said he planned to seek “an extended term of imprisonment” based on Rolling’s lengthy criminal record.

That prompted an effort by Rolling’s friends and family in Louisiana to get him a public defender. The Ocala public defender was appointed Oct. 31 to represent Rolling and immediately asked for a mental evaluation.

Task force members continue to look at a triple slaying in Shreveport in November 1989 that bears some similarities to the Gainesville murders. Julie Grissom, a 24-year-old student at Louisiana State University, her father and 8-year-old nephew were stabbed to death. Like four of the Gainesville victims, Grissom was a petite brunet and in both Shreveport and Gainesville, the killer left evidence apparently intended to taunt police. Rolling, who was living in Shreveport at the time of the triple-murder, has never been named as a suspect in those slayings.

In the early 1980s, Rolling spent three years in Georgia prisons for robbing a Columbus Winn-Dixie in 1979. He was released in 1982.

In the summer of 1985, Mississippi police said, Rolling was roaming the South, carrying a bedroll and an expensive gun — a Colt .45 automatic that had been reported stolen in Tennessee.

At about 9 p.m. on July 23 of that year, Rolling held up a Kroger’s supermarket next to Interstate 10 in Clinton, Miss., a Baptist college town and bedroom community for the state capital, Jackson. Police trailed him to a stand of woods across the interstate, then lost the trail, said Clinton detective Jerry Blankenship.

Rolling later told detectives he slept in the woods for a few hours, then broke into a nearby house, found a set of car keys and drove off. A midnight shift patrolman stopped Rolling in the stolen car before dawn next morning.

Soft-spoken and polite, Rolling made no move for his loaded gun when police stopped him, Blankenship said. He readily confessed to the robbery.

During his months in Ocala, Marion jailers noticed that Rolling was always meticulous about his appearance and kept his cell spotless.

In the Hinds County Jail awaiting trial, Rolling shaved off his eyebrows with a disposable razor. “He was kind of weird,” Blankenship said. “I thought at the time he might have some kind of mental impairment.”

In March 1986, Rolling pleaded guilty to robbery and grand theft and drew a four-year prison sentence, said Ken Jones, a Department of Corrections spokesman.

Paroled three years later, Rolling was supposed to serve five years’ probation in Mississippi, but was transferred to Louisiana to live at home with his parents, said his parole officer Dick Bowie.

Back in Shreveport, Rolling was arrested on a marijuana possession charge last May 16. The following night his father was shot during a quarrel with his son, and Rolling disappeared.


Published Feb. 13, 1994

More than 3 1/2 years after the horrific Gainesville student slayings, the case against Danny Harold Rolling finally opens this week with jury selection.

The case against the Louisiana career criminal hinges most strongly on two key points:

DNA results.

His jailhouse statements.

Rolling, accused in the killing spree of five students in August 1990, faces likely conviction if a jury accepts the state’s evidence on either one.

Judge Stan Morris has ruled that the prison statements are admissible, and DNA evidence, although facing new attacks for the often astronomical odds cited by its users, has been accepted by Florida juries since 1987.

The shocking murders of four women and one man — which included one decapitation, at least three sexual assaults and multiple stabbings of all five — sent thousands fleeing the north-central Florida university town and destroyed any innocent beliefs that college provided a safe haven from the world. For days on end, Gainesville became an armed camp.


Danny Harold Rolling is shown in this Feb. 13, 1994 photo, during his trial in Tampa, Fla., during which he plead guilty to the serial murders of five young women at the Unviersity of Florida in Gainesville.


The case has gone on so long that it has encompassed the college careers of several thousand in Gainesville — grim bookends for those who entered their freshmen year in August 1990 and now are graduating this spring.

Jury selection begins Tuesday. It may take two or three weeks, prosecutors estimate. To streamline the process, the court sent 1,500 questionnaires to prospective jurors. Based on the results, 277 people remain in the jury pool, but they still must be questioned on what they know about the case from the news media and whether they can be sequestered for the duration of the trial.

The trial is expected to last six weeks or more. One clue about its length: Some witnesses’ subpoenas to appear in court run out April 22, or nine weeks after jury selection begins.

In a case with already gargantuan credentials — 200-plus investigators, 6,920 task force reports totaling 100,000 pages, a $6.3 million budget for the investigation and trial — the two sides list a total of 148 witnesses.

The state’s approach will be to try to tell its story as simply as possible.

“We have to keep the jury focused on a chronology,” said Rod Smith, the state attorney who will split duties with two of his prosecutors, Jim Nilon and Jeanne Singer. “Focused on understanding what happened, in what order and how it happened. When all that falls in line, then we will fill in the flourishes.”

In a chronology, some of the earliest testimony will be on the gruesome details in the murders of Christa Hoyt, 18, of Gainesville; Sonja Larson, 17, of Pompano Beach; Tracy Paules, 23, of Palm Springs North; Christi Powell, 18, of Jacksonville; and Manny Taboada, 23, of Miami.

Several family members are expected to attend all or parts of the trial. They are united in backing the prosecution’s decision to seek the death penalty for the killer.

Prosecutors say the killer’s DNA matches Rolling’s — they haven’t supported the statement with any details — and they firmly believe that Rolling’s comments in jail amount to a confession.

The Miami Herald has learned new details about the meetings with Rolling at the Florida State Prison and about how the state handled a tricky legal matter in first identifying him as a suspect. Both pieces of information appear to further limit the options of Rolling’s defense team.

Rolling, 39, career criminal and eldest son of a retired Louisiana police officer, sentenced already to five life terms for a holdup-and-break-in crime wave after the murders, has publicly maintained his innocence in the murders.

But about a year ago, Rolling asked to meet with task force investigators — without his lawyers present. Rolling arranged for a fellow inmate, Bobby Lewis, to speak on his behalf and give details on the murder that only the killer could know. Task force sources say nothing was promised in return.

While letting Lewis do most of the talking, Rolling confirmed nearly everything that was related and blurted out additional details in the meetings, according to four sources outside the task force.

Among the details: how the students were killed, how the knife wounds were inflicted, how the victims were selected and descriptions of items found within the apartments.

he Herald recently learned that Lewis gave other details in the meetings that Rolling confirmed. Among them: where Rolling bought the murder weapon, a Marine-combat Ka-Bar knife; and that he alone was at the murder scenes, taking no one with him during or after the killings.

Lewis, notorious for being the only inmate ever to escape from Florida’s Death Row, is not a suspect; he was behind bars at the time of the killings.

Rolling’s jailhouse story hasn’t checked out on at least one important detail. He said he buried the knife in an abandoned animal pen owned by the University of Florida in the southwestern section of Gainesville. Authorities spent a week last year digging hundreds of holes in the pen but never found the weapon.

Rolling’s defense team isn’t talking about its strategy — or about anything else. Public Defender Rick Parker has not returned several phone calls.

They could take several points of attack.

One is to question the DNA samples. DNA, short for deoxyribonucleic acid, is the genetic fingerprint unique for everyone except identical twins. In this case, the DNA came from semen left at all three murder scenes.

In criminal cases, lab results will give the dna odds of someone other than the suspect having the same genetic makeup. In the past two years, defense experts around the country have argued that a national program is needed to maintain lab quality of DNA test results and that the odds are flawed unless there is random testing among narrowly defined ethnic, racial and geographic groups. Parker and his defense team also could launch an insanity defense, even though at one time Parker said that wasn’t his intention. But in earlier trials on a series of break-ins and robberies, judges in Tampa and Ocala rejected such motions and declared Rolling competent to stand trial.

Or the defense may attack police procedure at critical points in the investigation. One obvious point is when they identified Rolling as a suspect.

But then-prosecutor Len Register avoided a legal challenge in obtaining blood samples from Rolling.

It went like this:

In early January, investigators zeroed in on Rolling as a suspect. They had been told earlier by Shreveport, La., detectives that Rolling was a suspect in a triple homicide there that bore eerie resemblances to the Gainesville killings — including mutilation of a young woman.

Two FDLE detectives, Don Maines and Dennis Fischer, visited Rolling at the Ocala jail, where he was being held on armed robbery charges after a grocery holdup. Rolling waived his rights and gave them a blood sample they could compare to the killer’s. Analysis of semen from the Gainesville crime scene indicated the killer had type B blood.

But Register wasn’t convinced that the blood drawing at the jail was legal. Rolling was represented by a lawyer in another criminal case at the time. Register ordered the sample put aside and told police to get a new sample.

In mid-January, Rolling complained of a tooth infection. A guard took him to the jail dentist, who on Jan. 22 removed an upper right molar and placed the tooth and gauze around it in a red biomedical disposable bag. The guard had learned from other correctional officers that Rolling was a suspect in the murders and retrieved the bag Jan. 23 from a garbage can, according to an investigative report. She turned the bag over to the task force.

From the gauze, an enzyme test of the blood found that Rolling’s blood type was B.

To cement the evidence, the task force subpoenaed records of Rolling’s dental X-ray, showing the infected tooth, and the dentist’s work schedule. Rolling’s molar was the only tooth extracted that day.

Judge Morris has sealed an extraordinary number of documents in the case, including the photographs of the murder scenes. Morris “is so concerned about making sure that he doesn’t see this case again (on appeal), that he has said that the public’s right to participate takes second seat to getting this trial done,” said David Bralow, a Tampa attorney representing several news organizations.

Prosecutors say the pictures are so disturbing that they may offer counseling to jurors afterward.

“I can’t imagine someone sitting on these juries and seeing those horrendous pictures. I can’t imagine,” said Diana Hoyt, Christa’s stepmother, who at her insistence viewed the photographs of Christa’s body and her apartment.

The Hoyts and the other family members of the victims are asking Judge Morris to keep the pictures out of the media, on the grounds that it’s a further violation to them and the memories of the five students.


Published March 25, 1994

After more than five hours of sometimes testy deliberations and a moment of prayer, the 12 jurors were ready Thursday for a vote on life or death for Danny Harold Rolling, the merciless killer of five Gainesville students.

Death, said the first.

Death, death, death, they recited around the table until all 12 had said the word.

And then they wept.

“The most difficult thing was sitting in the jury room and to say the word ‘death’ and hear it said over and over,” said Brenda Diaz. “We all cried. It was not a task we took lightly.”


Ricky Paules, left and husband George Paules, parents of Tracy Paules killed by confessed killer Danny Rolling, are all smiles as the Senate Criminal Justice Committee breaks up after unanimously voting to confirm electrocution as Florida’s method of execution Tuesday, Feb. 17, 1998, in Tallahassee, Fla. The bill also names lethal injection as the next best execution method should the court ever rule electrocution as cruel and unusual punishment.


Rolling, 39, son of retired Shreveport, La., police officer, a self-described “superstar” criminal, slowly rubbed his hands, pursed his lips and nodded almost imperceptibly as the court clerk read his fate: five recommendations for execution, one for each murder, all unanimous.

He expected the recommendation of death and now awaits a sentencing hearing next Tuesday before Judge Stan Morris, where he is expected to speak to the judge for his life. Morris won’t make a ruling for at least a couple of weeks but indicated earlier that he would probably follow whatever recommendation they made.

The families and friends of the five victims — Sonja Larson, Christi Powell, Christa Hoyt, Manny Taboada and Tracy Paules — sobbed and gasped as the recommendations were read by the clerk.

“I want the man to die,” said a tearful Laurie Paules Lahey, Tracy Paules’ sister, after the verdict.

“I’m not jumping up and down for him to get the death penalty,” said Bob Malcolm, Christi Powell’s brother-in-law. “But he’s got to pay.”

One juror, Arlie Staab, who had cried at several points in the sentencing, dramatically reached out to the families after the verdict, her voice quavering:

“I just want to say to the families that I have so much empathy for them, that I would love to take them all and hug them and tell them that if this eases their mind in any way, I am so glad I was able to be a part of it.”

The murders go down as among of most heinous, truly wicked and cruel criminal acts in Florida history. They include mutilation, a beheading, three rapes, multiple stabbings and a killer who told three of his bound and gagged victims how he planned to torture them. The bodies were discovered on three consecutive days in late August 1990, sending thousands of students fleeing Gainesville.

“If this case doesn’t fit the criteria for the death penalty, I don’t know what case would,” said State Attorney Rod Smith. “If this doesn’t, as one person wrote to me in a letter last week, ‘We ought to chop up ‘Old Sparky,’ “ Florida’s relic electrocution device.

And yet for all the damning evidence against Rolling, jurors said they closely considered Rolling’s background as a mitigating factor for life in prison.

One juror held out for almost an hour Thursday, and several others had asked to review evidence of Rolling’s mental illness history and testimony from his mother Claudia.

“We felt like we had a life in our hands. As horrific as what he did was, he’s still a life,” said Diaz, 49, assistant director of risk management for a consortium of community colleges. “We just wanted to be sure that every juror felt comfortable with the decision they were making.”

In Room 412, around a rectangular table with a stainless steel pot of coffee on it, the jurors sat with piles of evidence, including the displays of the victims’ bloody and slashed T-shirts and gruesome pictures of their bodies. Some looked at the pictures, others had seen enough in the courtroom.

One who looked again again was juror Daren Stubbs: “They were horrendous. Very upsetting. I didn’t sleep for the first three days” after seeing them.

Wednesday afternoon, the jurors started with a prayer, led by John Odyssey Green, 35, a power plant mechanic.

Said Stubbs: “We all held hands and prayed that the victims would be in peace. We prayed for the families (of the victims and Rolling). We prayed for strength.”

From the beginning, the jurors focused on aggravating and mitigating factors. For several jurors, the aggravating factors — which support granting the death penalty — were overwhelming.

At the first vote, the score was 7-5 in favor of death.

“One actually considered him to be ‘a rabid dog, just a rabid dog,’ “ said Stubbs, 26, a mortgage broker. “It wasn’t the death that upset us the most, it was the cruelty — the time, the preparation to do what he did was phenomenal.”

But others wanted to hear the other side.

“We had nothing in hand about the defense,” Diaz said. “You had nothing that refreshed your memory of his side of it.”

And yet, when they heard that the videotaped testimony of Claudia Rolling lasted for three hours, they withdrew a request to watch it again.

They deliberated until late in the night Wednesday, inching close to a decision. Foreman Jerre Coleman asked a few times where people stood, or how they felt.

At that time, the jury was 8-4 or 9-3 for death based on their discussions. Two jurors wanted to vote immediately. The others argued against it.

It didn’t have to be, but they wanted it to be unanimous.

Thursday morning, it was 11-1. The holdout: Green, who had led them in prayer.

Green wanted to make sure there wasn’t one mitigating circumstance to spare Rolling’s life.

Some raised their voices, frustrated about the delay. One juror said to the group: “Let’s cut the crap and vote.”

Green declined to comment Thursday afternoon. But other jurors said he had a change of heart only minutes after sending a note to Judge Morris that he needed more time to deliberate.

Coleman, 62, the foreman, asked whether people were ready to vote.

They were.

This time, the vote was unanimous.

“Just before we went out, we prayed, saying to God ‘Thank you for giving us the power to do this,”’ Stubbs said.

Most were in tears.

At 10:34 a.m., they sent a note to Morris saying they were ready. Fifteen minutes later, in courtroom 4A, the clerk read their advisory verdict.

Coleman, who has lived in both Dade and Broward counties, had sat on a previous capital case in which that jury recommended the death sentence for Sonia Linder Jacobs, convicted in the 1976 murder of two police officers in Deerfield Beach. Her conviction was later overturned and she was freed in October 1992. Coleman wrote to the judge about the Jacobs case, but the lawyers didn’t disqualify him.

Standing beneath live oak trees in his secluded High Springs home, Coleman wouldn’t talk about the deliberations. But he said, “I’ve done this before. I’m not proud of that. I did it because it was my duty. I did the best job I could.”

The case now goes to Morris, who told the jury that this was the most “intense” case of any in his 20 years in the legal system. If he follows the jury’s recommendation, a series of appeals begins automatically.

Those appeals could take about seven to nine years, said Mike Minerva, executive director of the state agency that handles death penalty appeals. In Rolling’s case, though, the process may move a little quicker because he plead guilty.

The families of the victims, the victims’ counselors and the prosecutor all harshly criticized the slow pace of appeals leading up to the death penalty.

Prosecutor Smith said the long wait robs the penalty of deterrence value. The families said it only prolongs their pain.

When it was over, Smith appeared immensely relieved. Late Wednesday night, after the jury had called it quits until morning, he wondered if he had “tripped and fell” in presenting his case.

“Nobody wanted to be around me,” he said. In the back of the courtroom, the family members laughed. During the three-week sentencing, they had shared a roomy office and lounge area with the prosecution team.

Smith said he didn’t know how he could have gone wrong. “These were five horrible, horrible murders.”

For the defense, Parker appeared at peace as though he had done all he could. He knew from the start that he couldn’t do much.

“I would not be that truthful to tell you I would in reality expect a life sentence,” Parker said. He said an appeal would include the change of venue issue. He said there was “overbearing” community pressure on all the jurors.

As for Rolling’s reaction to the verdict? “It was not a surprise to him at all,” Parker said.

Sondra London, Rolling’s fiance, who had blown a kiss to Gainesville’s infamous murderer moments before the verdict, rushed out of the courtroom.

“He was expecting it,” she said.


If the judge has the final say on whether Danny Rolling gets the death penalty, why bother to have a jury listen to weeks of testimony and make a recommendation?

“Mercy” or “No Mercy” recommendations from juries are ancient tenets of law. Many states have long entertained such recommendations from juries, and in Florida it has been standard procedure for decades.

In declaring existing death penalty laws unconstitutional in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court said it was often applied in a capricious or uneven manner. After the death penalty was restored, Florida returned to a two-tiered system to decide on applying capital punishment — first a jury should make a recommendation, then a judge would decide. The judge must give the jury’s recommendation “great weight.”

Under this system, the standards of what earns a crime the death penalty are spelled out and weighed. In the Rolling case, for example, the brutal and heinous nature of the murders is a factor to be considered as is the killer’s background and childhood.

As a practical matter, Florida judges who overrule jury recommendations of mercy and sentence a killer to the electric chair are usually overruled by appellate courts that sentence the killer to life.


Published Oct. 26, 2006

Danny Harold Rolling, the murderous serial rapist and mutilator who paralyzed an entire college town with fear, didn’t give a last word Wednesday before he died in Florida’s death chamber.

He sang his own hymn.

While restrained in a gurney, Rolling turned his head and briefly gazed with pale blue eyes at the mother of one of his five victims, then sang in a haunting Louisiana drawl of angels, mountains and, in a reference to St. Paul, of seeing “through a glass now, darkly.”

For three minutes, as the lethal-injection drugs were about to pump into him, Rolling chanted the refrain, “None greater than thee, Oh Lord. None greater than thee.” He continued to sing or speak in the windowed chamber after the microphone was cut.

Never once did he mention sorrow or regret for his deadly Gainesville rampage 16 years ago that snuffed out five young people. Nor did he sing of the pain it caused, or ask for forgiveness.

And there was little forgiveness coming from the dozen family members in the witness room that was packed with 30 other spectators.


Death penalty supporters cheer outside the Florida State Prison moments after the execution of Danny Rolling in Starke, Fla., Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2006. Rolling was executed for the 1990 slayings of five University of Florida students.


Ricky Paules, the mother at whom Rolling had glanced, said she had one reaction: “Hatred. Very, very bitter throughout the whole thing. I saw his breath go out of him. . . . We waited for this time. And justice was done.”

With Rolling’s death, she said, she could remember only her daughter, Tracy Paules.

Rolling, 52, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m., 13 minutes after he started singing and two minutes after his body stopped quivering and his jowls fell, puffed and discolored. He was the 63rd person executed since 1973, when Florida reinstated the death penalty.

In only one respect did Rolling’s death mirror that of his victims – he was bound and helpless. But unlike his victims, Rolling wasn’t attacked by ambush while he slept. His victims were stabbed so hard with his U.S. Marine Corps-style KBAR knife that their chipped and slashed bones were later shown to the jury.

After Rolling was pronounced dead, the staff at Florida State Prison wheeled his body out. In contrast, Rolling posed his mutilated victims in sexually provocative positions and kept body parts as trophies.


“I’m a nurse, and I’ve seen my patients die. And they died a much more horrific death than what this man suffered through, that’s for sure. He relaxed, went to sleep, did not feel anything,” Dianna Hoyt, stepmother of victim Christa Hoyt, said later. “Today’s been a very surreal day for me. It’s like a dream, walking through a dream.”

Outside the death chamber in a nearby pasture, anti-death penalty protesters sung Kumbaya and Blowin’ in the Wind. Dozens of media satellite trucks sprouted in another area, in a scene reminiscent of the 1989 electric-chair execution of Florida’s most notorious killer, Ted Bundy.

A year after Bundy’s death, Rolling arrived in Gainesville on a Greyhound bus, pitched a tent in the woods and recorded a tape of self-written songs for his family. Years later, at an appeals hearing, Rolling broke out in song in honor of a woman he asked to marry him from prison.

Reared Pentecostal, Rolling sought spiritual advice on his last day from a minister of the church. Prosecutors and Rolling himself said he swung between deep faith and pure evil.

At some point, Rolling later said, he vowed to kill a person for each of the eight years he had spent in prisons in Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. In addition to the five Gainesville murders, Rolling is suspected of killing a family of three, the Grissoms, in his native Shreveport, La.


Another motive for his killings: Rolling later said in one of his confessions that he wanted to become a “superstar.” His tools were simple: his Ka-Bar knife; duct tape; a handgun and a screwdriver for break-ins.

For his first double homicide in Gainesville, he didn’t even need the screwdriver or gun when he saw the door was unlocked at town house 113 in the Williamsburg Village Apartments.

Rolling found Christina Powell, 17, sleeping downstairs. Upstairs, Sonja Larson was asleep as well. He bound them both, raped one and stabbed them to death. Their bodies were found the Sunday before the fall semester was to begin at the University of Florida. They hadn’t even unpacked all their boxes.

The next morning, 18-year-old Christa Hoyt was found decapitated, her head wedged on a bookshelf. And the following day, Paules and her apartment mate friend, Manny Taboada, both 23, were found dead.

The town of Gainesville was in a panic. Scores of state and federal police swept in and drew blood samples from a number of men. A rumor hot line produced numerous bad leads, and whispers that police were hiding more bodies to cover up an even more massive slaying. Hundreds of University of Florida students disenrolled. Others slept a dozen to a house. Deadbolt locks flew off the shelves. So did guns.

Unknown to authorities, Rolling was arrested shortly after the killings on an unrelated charge of robbing a grocery store. Investigators focused on him at the suggestion of Louisiana authorities investigating the Grissom killings.

On Wednesday, that long-ago sweltering August seemed far away. The day was crisp and the emotions were far more muted. Death-penalty supporters whistled and clapped with word of Rolling’s demise. Opponents methodically banged a hammer on an anvil.

Tonya Wilson, 34, said she attended to remember her roommates, Larson and Powell, with whom she was to room in 1990. “I’m here for Christi and Sonja,” she said, holding back tears. “I told them I would be from the beginning.”

She said she’s glad Rolling is finally dead, but wishes the punishment better fit the crime.


“I’m an eye-for-an-eye kind of person,” she said. “I think he’s getting off so easy it’s sickening.”

Others mulled the best punishment: electrocution; crucifixion; stoning; an ice pick. They agreed that he had it too easy, as if he were a sick dog being put to sleep.

But Deborah Michaud, 35, looked into the sun with tears streaming down her face, in silent opposition to the death penalty. Paules and Taboada were her childhood friends; they grew up together, attending the same elementary and junior high schools in the Carol City area.

“I feel really helpless,” she said. “I don’t know what I can do to stop executions, and I also don’t know what I can do to stop violence. But I feel this is not the answer.” LAST SONG Danny Rolling sang these words before he was executed Wednesday:

He who flung the stars into the heavens above

Created the oceans, mountains, the eagle, the dove

None greater than thee, Oh Lord.

None greater than thee.

He who formed me out of the dust of the earth

He who breathed into my heart for all that it’s worth

None greater than thee, Oh Lord.

None greater than thee.

Angels bow before you, and fold their wings

Lift up their voice and praise the King of Kings

None greater than thee, Oh Lord.

None greater than thee.

Thou art the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end

The sound of thy voice quiets the mighty wind

None greater than thee, Oh Lord.

None greater than thee.

Though we see through a glass, now darkly

Oh, to be face to face with your glory

None greater than thee, Oh Lord.

Miami Herald Real Time Reporter Devoun Cetoute covers breaking news, Florida theme parks and general assignment. He attends the University of Florida and grew up in Miami. Theme parks are on his mind in and out of the office.

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