STARKE - As it was with his victims, in the end there was no mercy for Danny Rolling.
Sixteen years after he butchered five Gainesville college students as the fall semester at the University of Florida began, the Death Row inmate died Wednesday after a lethal injection at Florida State Prison.
While strapped onto the execution gurney, Rolling sang a church hymn before executioners fed a deadly chemical cocktail into his veins. Thirteen minutes after his 6 p.m. date with death, and without a stay from the U.S. Supreme Court, the 52-year-old murderer was gone.
Members of all his victims' families came to the prison, some witnessing the execution and others waiting nearby and leaning on each other as they waited to hear that the life of the person who stole their loved ones' futures had been taken.
In August 1990, Rolling murdered Christi Powell, 17, of Jacksonville; her roommate Sonja Larson, 18, of Deerfield Beach; along with Christa Hoyt, 18, of Archer; and roommates Tracy Paules, 23, of Pembroke Pines and Manuel Taboada, 23, of Carol City.
Ricky Paules, Tracy's mother, said she felt Rolling looking her way before he died.
"Thank God He's Gone...It's been a long 16 years" said Sandra Sundberg (right) from Gainesville as she walked away from the viewing area with her husband Donald Sundberg Wednesday evening.
So the St. Augustine woman said she looked at her daughter's photo and focused on her anger and keeping the killer out of her head.
"I saw his breath go out of him," Paules said. "... I was mad all the way through it."
Rolling raped three of the women and left all of them nude. He decapitated one and put her head on a bookshelf. He stabbed all his victims to death with a 4-inch knife after breaking into their off-campus apartments wearing a ski mask and glove and carrying a pistol. He used duct tape to silence their cries.
Authorities said Rolling peeped into apartments to pick out victims before barging in or prying their doors open and unleashing a premeditated fury of violence.
The victims were found over three days, igniting a panic that prompted some college students to leave Gainesville for good and others to take up arms for protection as authorities began a hunt for a serial killer.
Police charged Rolling with the crimes in November 1991 while he was in the Marion County jail for robbing an Ocala supermarket a month after the Gainesville slayings.
On the day his trial started in February 1994, Rolling pleaded guilty to murdering the five students, raping three of them and breaking into their apartments.
The hearse carrying the body of Serial Killer Danny Rolling leaves the grounds of Florida State Prison after he was executed.
BOB SELF/The Times-Union
During the trial's sentencing phase, jurors listened to a tape Rolling made in a campsite in the woods hours before the killings began.
"You're a killer, a drifter gone insane," he sang on part of the tape, which included messages to his family.
Besides a confession, authorities had DNA connecting Rolling to the crimes.
It also came out that Rolling saw the movie Exorcist III in Gainesville possibly hours before the violent spree started and may have gotten ideas for his murderous rampage from the horror flick.
Authorities believe it actually began a year earlier in his home state of Louisiana. Although police never charged Rolling with the crime, they linked him to a triple homicide that left 24-year-old Julie Grissom, her father, 55-year-old William Grissom, and her nephew 8-year-old Sean Grissom dead after a stabbing attack.
Investigators said the culprit used a knife, tried to clean up evidence and posed the corpses, as in the college town case.
In April 1994, a jury handed down a recommendation and a judge meted out Rolling's fate: death, five times over.
Before that sentence was carried out Wednesday, Rolling had a last meal of a lobster tail, butterfly shrimp, a baked potato, strawberry cheesecake and sweet tea.
He spent time with his brother and his spiritual adviser before the prison warden read him his death warrant.
State Attorney Bill Cervone of Gainesville said after witnessing the state-sanctioned killing that it removed a shadow over the community cast by a man he called the face of evil.
The execution also brought a few hundred spectators to Starke. They gathered in a field across from the prison, some speaking up against the execution and about an equal number speaking for it.
Manning was one of two officers who secured the crime scene where Christina Powell was murdered and came to the execution to try and find some closure.
BOB SELF/The Times-Union
Quietly, Gary Manning was one of those folks.
The Gainesville man kept his eyes peeled on the prison as the sun started slipping behind it and people waited to hear if Rolling was dead.
(left to right) Friends of Christina Powell, Amanda Iannone and Alison Schoenberger (Schoenberger is from Jacksonville) are bathed in TV lights as they listen to family members of the Gainesville murder victims make statements after Danny Rollings execution.
BOB SELF/The Times-Union
Manning, a retired Gainesville police officer, was one of the first two law-enforcement officials at the scene when the bodies of Powell and Larson were found.
When word came that it was over, Manning said he felt some closure.
"The Bible says, 'An eye for an eye.' ... I believe justice was done today. It was a willing act he committed."
Christi Powell's family, who live in Jacksonville, declined to comment after the execution. The youngest of seven and an Episcopal High School graduate, Powell planned to study architecture at the University of Florida and proudly wore a gold Gator charm her parents gave her for graduation.
Powell's best friend, Alison Emery Schoenberger of Jacksonville, said after the execution that for many of the victims' loved ones, Wednesday was about remembering them.
"This day was not about the murderer," she said. "No one talked about him."
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