Shreveport Family Witnesses Serial Killer's Execution

Published: Oct. 26, 2006 at 12:42 AM CDT|Updated: Nov. 6, 2006 at 5:01 AM CST
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Reported by: David Begnaud

Wednesday night, for what may be the first time, we hear from the mother of Julie Grissom, the 24-year-old Shreveport woman police say was murdered by serial killer Danny Rolling.  The state of Florida executed him Wednesday night.

"Although these tragedies happened November 4, 1989 in Shreveport, we never really had any, and I hate the word closure, but there was never any satisfaction there," says Joyce Burton, mother of Julie Grissom.

Fighting back tears, Burton faced a barrage of media, speaking softly but sternly.

"What happened today was nothing, nothing compared to what this person did to our lives," says Burton.

Police believe Rolling killed the 24-year-old Grissom, her father Tom, and his eight year old grandson, Sean.

"My brother would have been twenty-five and now Danny Rolling paid for what he did," says Sean's brother.

Rolling died at 6:13pm, EST.

Forty-seven people witnessed the lethal injection and Rolling's last words that he chose to sing.

"None greater than thee O Lord, none greater than thee," said a reporter, repeating what he witnessed before Rolling died.

The Grissom family says it bonded with the families of the five Florida coeds Rolling admits to murdering.

"Everyone here in Florida has really been helpful to us. We haven't had much help from anyone in Shreveport, but these people have been gracious to us, including us in everything, and we're thankful for that," says Burton, who is thankful that they, like the other families, got a chance to see justice carried out, even if it wasn't here at home.

"We will never have closure on this until we close our eyes, all of us parents, for the last time.  But thank God we had great kids, we have great memories, and that's what keeps me going.  Thank you," says Burton.

Background information on the Florida killings


Associated Press Writer

STARKE, Fla. (AP) - Danny Harold Rolling, the state's most notorious serial killer since Ted Bundy, was executed Wednesday by lethal injection for the grisly hunting-knife slayings of five college students in 1990 that threw the University of Florida into a panic. Rolling, 52, was pronounced dead at 6:13 p.m. Wednesday in the execution chamber at Florida State Prison. Several victims' relatives witnessed the execution, and dozens of death penalty supporters, curious onlookers and journalists gathered on the barren cow pasture across from the prison. The U.S. Supreme Court turned down his final appeal, a challenge to the constitutionality of the chemicals used in Florida's execution procedure that has failed before the court in other cases. Justices Stephen Breyer and John Paul Stevens voted to grant the stay of execution, the court said in a three-sentence order. The horror of Rolling's killings unfolded when police officers found the bodies of the victims over a three-day period, one decapitated and posed, others mutilated and several sexually assaulted. The spree touched off a massive manhunt, causing students to cower in fear and purchase weapons. Rolling was jailed for a supermarket robbery when investigators used DNA to link him to the killings months later. Rolling pleaded guilty to the slayings in 1994, shocking the courtroom on the first day of his trial. "There are some things you just can't run from, this being one of those," Rolling told Circuit Judge Stan R. Morris, who accepted the pleas, found him guilty and later sentenced him to death. He later told The Associated Press: "I do deserve to die, but do I want to die? No. I want to live. Life is difficult to give up." Outside the prison Wednesday, death penalty opponents stood in a circle singing "Amazing Grace" after Rolling was pronounced dead, but others were there in support of the execution. "They're doing a good thing," said Randy Hicks, a 35-year-old Lake Butler truck driver and former prison guard who occasionally watched over Rolling. "This guy deserves it. It's very overdue." Death penalty protesters, who were cordoned off in a separate area by police tape, said the execution only served to provide Rolling additional attention. "The state of Florida is giving this psychopathic killer just what he wanted," said Mark Elliott of Clearwater, spokesman for Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty. The execution reopened old wounds for some of the victims' families, including Dianna Hoyt, the stepmother of victim Christa Hoyt, who attended Santa Fe Community College, near the university. "It is very hard for us to see someone else die," she said. "But, he deserves it." The victims' families ran an advertisement Thursday in The 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 was calm and cooperative ahead of the execution, Corrections Department spokesman Robby Cunningham said. He spent several hours with his brother Kevin, and his brother's pastor Jim Wallingworth, officials said. His last meal was lobster tail, butterfly shrimp, baked potato, strawberry cheesecake and sweet tea shortly before noon. "He enjoyed his last meal. He ate every bite," Cunningham said. The gathering outside the prison was reminiscent of the crowds that gathered for Bundy's execution on Jan. 24, 1989 in the state's old electric chair. Bundy was suspected in the deaths and disappearances of 36 women across the country. That case was still fresh in the minds of many when Rolling's killings began the next year in roughly the same area as some of Bundy's. The bodies of UF students Sonja Larson, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, were found stabbed to death on a Sunday afternoon in 1990, in a town house just off the campus. Hoyt, 18, whose decapitated head was left on a bookshelf, was found the next morning in her isolated duplex; and Paules and Manny Taboada, both 23-year-old UF students, were discovered dead a day later at Gatorwood Apartments. For months, a large task force of local, state and federal agents followed hundreds of leads and took blood samples from dozens of men. They did not know that Rolling was already behind bars in Marion County after robbing a grocery store. Then authorities in Rolling's hometown of Shreveport, La., investigating a triple slaying that they believe he committed, suggested that police should check out the drifter and ex-con. The DNA left at the crime scenes in Gainesville matched genetic material police recovered from Rolling during some dental work. Throughout the years, Rolling insisted he was not as atrocious as many thought. In a letter to the AP in 2002, Rolling wrote, "I assure you I am not a salivating ogre. Granted ... time's past; the dark era of long ago - Dr. Jeckle & Mr. Hyde did strike up & down the corridors of insanety." Rolling, who often drew dark and sexual pictures, claimed he had good and bad multiple personalities. He blamed the murders on abuse he suffered as a child from his police officer father and his treatment in prison. He said he killed one person for every year he was behind bars. He served a total of eight years in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi before the killings. In his trips through north central Florida courts, Rolling twice sang gospel songs when he was sentenced. A tape of his own songs was found by investigators at a campsite in Gainesville where he stayed while committing the killings. Rolling was the 63rd inmate to be put to death since Florida resumed executions in 1979 and the third this year. He was the 259th since 1924, when the state took over the duty from individual counties.