STARKE - Linroy Bottoson, who had dodged death with three last-minute reprieves since February, was executed Monday for the savage 1979 murder of an elderly woman who ran a Central Florida post office.
Bottoson, who claimed he heard the voice of God and possessed the supernatural power to resurrect his victim, died by lethal injection at Florida State Prison, ending one of the biggest legal challenges to Florida's death penalty in decades.
He was pronounced dead at 5:12 p.m., following a flurry of appeals over questions of his sanity.
First, an Orlando Circuit Court judge ruled Bottoson mentally fit, rejecting claims that the 63-year-old former child street evangelist was too disturbed to understand his sentence. The Florida Supreme Court then refused an appeal 20 minutes before the scheduled 5 p.m. execution. In Washington, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected an argument that Bottoson was mentally retarded.
Last week, the U.S. high court also rejected a challenge to Florida's death sentencing procedures. While the court's refusal to hear that appeal, based on a key recent ruling called Ring vs. Arizona, did not amount to a legal precedent, experts believe it reaffirms the court's approval of Florida's capital punishment law.
''That was the last best chance for a major challenge to the death penalty in Florida,'' said Christopher Slobogin, a University of Florida law professor.
Bottoson was condemned for a ghastly crime. He kidnapped 74-year-old Catherine Alexander at the post office she ran in Eatonville, stole cash and postal money orders, imprisoned her in a car trunk for 83 hours, stabbed her 15 times and ran over her with a car.
The sentence was carried out just before sundown on a miserably wet, cold, rainy night in North Florida, while anti-death-penalty protesters held a silent vigil across the street.
The execution was viewed by Alexander's son, Hubert, but Bottoson never opened his eyes in the death chamber to see his victim's relative. He accepted a sedative and, asked by the warden if he had any last words, replied only, ``No sir, no.''
An anonymous executioner pushed three syringe plungers sending a deadly mix of drugs into IV tubes needled into Bottoson's arms. He died quickly.
Hubert Alexander, 78, oldest of six remaining brothers and sisters, was seated less than 10 feet from his mother's killer, on the other side of a window.
''I'm not sure it's going to bring closure because nothing is going to bring my mother back, but I think I can rest a little easier now that the person who did this awful thing to her is gone,'' he said.
Unlike last Monday when an announcement by Gov. Jeb Bush stopped the execution of Amos Lee King less than an hour before he was to be put to death, there was no reprieve for Bottoson.
King's death was halted so 25-year-old evidence could be examined with new DNA technology.
Bush issued a temporary stay Friday for Bottoson, nine hours before his previously scheduled execution, to order a psychiatric examination.
Attorney Peter Cannon said his client heard voices of both the devil and God, and a clinical psychologist hired by Bottoson's lawyers issued a report saying he was insane.
''He understands himself to be locked in the middle of a battle between Jesus and Satan, a battle he is certain, as one of God's prophets, Jesus will win,'' psychologist Xavier Amador wrote.
But Orlando Circuit Judge Anthony Johnson upheld a finding of competence given by a three-psychiatrist panel.
Competence under Florida law means only that he understands the ''nature and effect'' of the death penalty and he knows why it is being imposed, said Carolyn Snurkowski, chief of the appeals division of the Florida attorney general's office.
Bottoson's U.S. Supreme Court challenge was the most formidable since the resumption of capital punishment in Florida in 1979.
Of the 38 states that have death penalties, most require jurors to have final say on the issue of life in prison or death. In Arizona and four other states, judges alone made the decision and jurors had no say.
In a summer decision in the Ring case, the court overturned those laws, ruling that judges alone can't impose death. Jurors must hear evidence and decide whether the penalty is appropriate.
But the system is slightly different in Florida and three other ''hybrid'' states, with jurors making recommendations, but the judge acting as final arbiter.
Last week's decision not to address Bottoson's appeal seems to amount to tacit affirmation of Florida's law.
Abe Bonowitz, director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, blasted the state's definition of ``competence.''
''You have to be a vegetable not to be competent for execution in this state,'' Bonowitz said before the execution.
In 20 years in prison, Bottoson never had a visitor, other than his attorneys or the prison chaplain. Monday was no different.
No one claimed the killer's body either, and his ashes will be buried at the prison where he was executed.
This report was supplemented with material from The Associated Press.