Gainesville Ripper Executed
FLORIDA has executed a serial killer whose grisly murders of five students haunted students at a major university and sent a chill through campuses across the US.
Danny Rolling, 52, was pronounced dead at Florida State Prison near Starke minutes after he was injected with a lethal dose of chemicals that paralysed his lungs and stopped his heart.
Asked if he had any final words, witnesses at the execution said Rolling sang a song in which he repeated the line "None greater than thee, oh Lord," as relatives of the slain students watched on.
"Maybe now that this is over with and we don't have this cause to fight for, we can try and relax and live with our memories of our children and be at peace with that," said Diana Hoyt, the stepmother of victim Christa Hoyt.
Known as the Gainesville Ripper, Rolling murdered four University of Florida students and a Santa Fe Community College student in their apartments in 1990.
He decapitated one victim, posed with some of the bodies, removed skin and body parts and arranged the murder scenes using props that included broken mirrors.
Panic hit the university town after the murders. Some students went home, others bought guns or moved in together for protection. Many feared it was only a matter of time before it happened again.
The macabre slayings began on August 24, when Rolling broke into the apartment of 17-year-old university freshmen Sonja Larson and Christina Powell. They were found mutilated and stabbed to death. He had raped both women, one after she was dead.
The next day, Rolling killed Ms Hoyt, 18. Her body was found sitting up in bed; her severed head perched on a shelf across the room.
Two days later, Rolling killed roommates Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada, both 23.
Rolling remained at large until September 8 that year, when he was arrested after a botched robbery in the central Florida town of Ocala. He was later linked by DNA to three more killings in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1989.
He was not charged in the Gainesville slayings until 1992, while serving a life sentence for armed robbery and other crimes. He pleaded guilty to all five murders as the jury was being selected for trial in 1994.
In prison, Rolling became engaged to Sondra London, with whom he coauthored The Making of a Serial Killer, which chronicles his life and the murders.
On his last day, Rolling met in the morning with his brother, Kevin, and two clergymen, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.
Pro and anti-death penalty demonstrators gathered in a field outside the prison for one of Florida's highest-profile executions since that of serial killer Ted Bundy, who was put to death in 1989.
About 100 death penalty opponents gathered in a circle, praying. Among an equal number of people who supported Rolling's execution was a woman holding a sign that read "Finally, kill the killer".
Bill Cervone, the state attorney for Gainesville, called Rolling "the face of evil in our community".
"Even after his conviction ... and ever since he was imprisoned under sentence of death, he still cast a shadow on our community," Mr Cervone said.
"This execution has removed that shadow."
Rolling was the 63rd death row inmate put to death in the state since Florida resumed executions in 1979.