- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

STARKE (AP) — Danny Harold Rolling, Florida’s most notorious serial killer since Ted Bundy, was executed by injection yesterday for butchering five college students in a ghastly string of slayings that terrorized Gainesville in 1990.

Rolling, 52, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m. EDT, more than 16 years after his killing rampage at the start of the University of Florida’s fall semester.

The bodies of his victims were found over three days in late August. All had been killed with a hunting knife. Some had been mutilated, sexually assaulted and put in shocking poses. One girl’s severed head had been placed on a shelf, her body posed as if seated.

The killing spree touched off a huge manhunt, plunging the laid-back college town into panic. Students fled and residents armed themselves.

Belongings that Rolling left at a campsite in the woods and DNA taken after a later arrest for robbery linked him to the slayings. When he came up for trial in 1994, he shocked the courtroom by pleading guilty.

“There are some things you just can’t run from, this being one of those,” Rolling told the judge, who later sentenced him to death.

Rolling was calm and cooperative before the execution, Corrections Department spokesman Robby Cunningham said. He spent several hours with his brother Kevin and his brother’s pastor, officials said.

Outside the prison, death penalty opponents stood in a circle singing “Amazing Grace” after Rolling was pronounced dead.

Other onlookers supported the execution. “They’re doing a good thing,” said Randy Hicks, 35, a truck driver and former prison guard who occasionally watched over Rolling. “This guy deserves it. It’s very overdue.”

The attention surrounding Rolling’s impending execution reopened old wounds in Gainesville and for the families of the victims.

“This is a tough thing, but is a necessary thing to go through,” said Dianna Hoyt, whose stepdaughter was killed by Rolling and decapitated. “It is very hard for us to see someone else die. But he deserves it.”

The victims’ families had an advertisement ready for today’s Gainesville Sun, thanking the community for its support: “We hope you will remember August 1990 and the years that followed without any sense of community shame for what has happened here. You turned a blemish into a rose.”

Rolling, a police officer’s son from Shreveport, La., arrived in Gainesville on a Greyhound bus, pitched a tent in the woods near campus and set out to become, as he would say later, a “superstar” among criminals.

The bodies of Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, were found stabbed to death in a town house just off the University of Florida campus. Christa Hoyt, 18, was found decapitated the next morning in her isolated duplex. Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada, both 23, were discovered dead a day later in the apartment they shared.

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