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Florida got it right with Bolin execution
Oscar Ray Bolin was executed Friday January 7, 2016 at the Florida State Prison in Raiford. CHRIS URSO/STAFF
The world got better when Oscar Ray Bolin was forcibly evicted from the realm of the living to whatever awaited in the Great Beyond. The state of Florida provided a public service late Thursday when it executed that mass murdering sociopath.
Then again, that’s just me. I’m not the one who had to sign the death warrant or push the buttons that sent poison into his veins. It’s the most solemn decision any governor has to make. When asked at a meeting with The Tampa Tribune’s editorial board if anything about the job kept him awake nights, Gov. Rick Scott said it was signing death warrants.
Opponents say state-sanctioned killing is barbaric and should be outlawed. It also should be noted that Florida leads the nation in the number of death sentences overturned.
If we’re going to have a death penalty though, it was designed for people like Bolin. He drew two death sentences but was executed for the murder of Teri Lynn Matthews of Land O’Lakes in 1986. He was also guilty of killing 17-year-old Stephanie Collins and 25-year-old Blanche Holley, both of Tampa.
If you were around here then, you remember the awful grip that had on everyone. Since Florida resumed executions in 1979, Bolin was in a triumvirate of terror that included Ted Bundy and Oba Chandler as the worst of the worst.
This month is the 27th anniversary of Bundy’s execution in Florida’s electric chair. I talked to former Gov. Bob Martinez about what someone in that position goes through when the question is life or death.
Bundy was one of nine people executed during the four years Martinez was governor, and he was by far the most notorious. Bundy confessed to at least 30 murders and was suspected in many more.
“Ted Bundy had a national following,” Martinez said. “People from all over the country were interested in this. There were strong advocates for and against his execution.
“I remember we got a call from Colorado just before the execution was scheduled. They thought Ted Bundy was willing to talk about missing people there, and would we postpone the execution until they could meet with him? I thought he was just trying to buy time, so I said no.”
The execution was scheduled for Jan. 24, 1989. Martinez’s office had been inundated with phone calls and letters, some asking him to commute the sentence while others volunteered to pull the switch. They didn’t have any impact on the decision to move ahead.
“I glanced at some of them,” Martinez said. “Some of those didn’t believe Bundy had committed those crimes. But I had read his file extensively before signing the death warrant. I always did. I wanted to be as familiar with his case as possible.”
Bundy was found guilty of three murders and had survived three death warrants. Martinez signed the one that stuck, condemning Bundy for the murder of 12-year-old Kimberly Leach of Lake City.
Executions now are carried out in the late afternoon, but in 1989 it was scheduled for 7 a.m. Martinez recalled rising early that day. He reviewed Bundy’s file once more. He conferred with staff members while about 144 miles away at the Florida State Prison in Raiford, Bundy was being strapped into the electric chair.
He made his final statement at 7:04.
A minute later, prison Superintendent Tom Barton checked by phone one more time with the governor.
“There are no stays,” Martinez told him. “On behalf of the countless victims of Theodore Bundy, both dead and living, across Florida and the nation, I direct you to proceed to carry out the court-ordered sentence.”
I asked Martinez if that was a prepared statement because of the enormity of the moment, or whether the words had just tumbled out. Martinez said he had planned it. Either way, it was fitting.
Moments later, 2,000 volts of electricity surged through Bundy. He was pronounced dead at 7:16.
That was a long time ago. Bolin was the 72nd person put to death in Florida since then. Events like that never leave you though, even when it’s someone as evil as Bundy.
“I didn’t like doing it, but I do believe in it,” Martinez said. “I believed in capital punishment then, and I do now, but it’s not easy. There is a life at the other end of the process.
“Although the process is way too long, the number of appeals they file is good. (The inmate) is not going anywhere, and you have to be sure.”
Bundy was on death row for nine years. Bolin was first sent there in 1991. Although Bolin went to his grave denying that he had murdered the women, there is no doubt Florida got the right man.
Gov. Scott deserved to sleep well.