Miami triple murderer is executed in Florida - 25 years after Ted Bundy

 
 

Ted Bundy.
Ted Bundy.
AP

Florida executed a triple murderer on Tuesday: Thomas Knight died for the stabbing death of a prison guard. He had previously been convicted in the slaying of a Miami-Dade couple.

Knight’s execution by lethal injection comes 25 years to the month of that of the most infamous criminal ever put to death by the state: serial killer Ted Bundy, who died in Florida’s electric chair on Tuesday, Jan. 24, 1989 - nearly two weeks from today.

Bundy, who terrorized the nation, was suspected of as many as 50 murders. Among his victims were two Florida State University sorority sisters.

The day after Bundy’s execution, Miami Herald ran this front page story:

EXECUTION ENDS BUNDY HORROR; MACABRE CARNIVAL OUTSIDE PRISON CELEBRATES MURDERER'S DEATH

Dave von Drehle

Miami Herald Staff Writer

STARKE - The terrible life of Ted Bundy came to an end as the sun rose Tuesday. The serial killer now linked by the FBI to as many as 50 murders nationwide was electrocuted at Florida State Prison.

Prison doctor Frank Kilgo pronounced Bundy dead at 7:16 a.m.

It was the final page of a violent saga that gripped America for more than a decade. The name that became a shorthand for the slow, choking inefficiency of capital punishment was entered on a death certificate by a Gainesville coroner -- nine years and 177 days after Bundy was sentenced to death for the 1978 murders of Margaret Bowman and Lisa Levy at a sorority house in Tallahassee.

But that sentence was not the one carried out on Tuesday. Theodore Robert Bundy died because he kidnapped, raped and mutilated Kimberly Diane Leach, a 12-year-old Lake City girl.

Bundy's execution was greeted with fireworks and cheers from a crowd of about 300 death penalty supporters. It was mourned in silent prayer by a thin line of 30 opponents of capital punishment.

Widely known for his confident and well-spoken -- though long-winded -- courtroom presence, Bundy was pale, submissive and quiet as he was strapped into the heavy oak chair called "Old Sparky."

Gazing at his attorney, James Coleman Jr., and at Fred Lawrence, the Methodist minister who comforted him through the night, Bundy spoke a single final sentence:

"Jim and Fred, I'd like you to give my love to my family and friends."

Then a leather strap was cinched under the prisoner's chin, a black veil dropped over his face and the anonymous executioner sent 2,000 volts at 12 amperes through Bundy's body for a one- minute cycle.

"I have a personal sense of relief, " said Jerry Blair, the state attorney from Lake City who prosecuted Bundy for the murder of Kimberly Leach.

Bob Dekle was the assistant prosecutor. As Dekle watched the execution through a pane of glass, his mind replayed vivid images of the April day in 1978 when the girl's mummified body was discovered in a North Florida hog shed.

"I kept recalling that scene, " said Dekle, "and I kept thinking: That's where it started, this is where it ends."

For Bundy, however, it did not begin in Lake City. It began as long as a decade earlier, when his violent sexual fantasies, fueled by years of savoring hard-core pornography, demanded their first real, live victim.

"I'm not blaming pornography, " Bundy said in his final interview, taped Monday afternoon with California anti- pornography crusader James Dobson. "I take full responsibility." But he said hard-core pornography "guided and shaped" what he did.

In his last days, Bundy spent hours in confession with investigators from four states and a specialist on serial killers from the FBI. When it was over, the FBI's Bill Hagmeier spoke with prosecutor Blair about Bundy's final toll.

In addition to the three Florida murders, Bundy closed the books on 13 killings in Washington state, Utah and Colorado, Blair said. Bundy provided information that may never be confirmed on 14 more cases -- in Washington, Idaho, California, Utah, Vermont and Pennsylvania.

And Hagmeier told Blair that the confessions touched on at least 20 more slayings in various states -- all of them young women, possibly dating back to 1969.

They were savage murders, Bundy confessed. Even after death, the bodies were used to satisfy his deadly perversion.

The execution of Ted Bundy -- which cost the state more than $5 million in legal bills -- satisfied a public demand that has heightened with each year of delay. And it leaves a void in Florida's political rhetoric, after nine years when the name Bundy was a staple of many a law-and-order press conference.

Death came for Bundy a week after the U.S. Supreme Court denied his claim that he was incompetent to stand trial. New, desperate appeals were filed last week, but courts from Lake City to Washington, D.C., found no reason to stay the execution.

When attorney Polly Nelson phoned Bundy at midnight with news that the Florida Supreme Court denied his final petition, the prisoner was "visibly shaken, " said prison spokesman Bob Macmaster.

The man who went to the electric chair bore little resemblance to the smart-aleck, arrogant convict portrayed in the The Only Living Witness, a book based on extensive prison interviews.

More characteristic were his last words to Hugh Aynesworth, the book's co-author. Aynesworth said he had not heard from Bundy for a long time, until Monday, when he received a message from the condemned man: "Let's have lunch Wednesday."

In the dark hours before dawn Tuesday, a macabre carnival roared in a pasture across the street from the prison. Wearing costumes, waving signs, laughing and chattering, hundreds came to celebrate the impending execution. Some bundled up their toddlers and brought them along.

An unidentified man came sporting his rubber Ronald Reagan mask and his "Burn Bundy" T-shirt. He dangled a child's stuffed bunny from a miniature noose.

A chorus of middle-aged revelers waved sparklers and sang On Top of Old Sparky, to the tune of Old Smoky: "He bludgeoned the poooooor girls, All over the heeeeeaaaad. Now we're all ecstatic, Ted Bundy is dead."

The scene was a grim parody of a tailgate party before a big game. Hours of preparation obviously went into the posters and gimmicks aimed at catching the attention of 100 or more television cameras.

The "Bundy BBQ" banner was hoisted by a team carrying frying pans. A poster bore the image of a wave -- reminiscent of a Coca-Cola logo -- with the legend, "Bundy: Catch the Current." Graceville's Dennis Ray drove 250 miles to be there, carrying a placard punning on the fact that Bowman and Levy were slain at the Chi Omega house.

"Chi O, Chi O, It's Off To Hell We Go, " Ray's placard proclaimed.

The entrance to the carnival ground was graced with an effigy seated in a converted kitchen chair, a homemade version of a Madame Toussaud waxwork. No less elaborate was the replica of an electric chair headpiece worn by grinning Ramona Lowe of Lake City. "I took the cardboard from a Christmas box and wrapped it in tinfoil to make the metal bands, then I took the solder wire from a stained glass window to make the electrodes, " Lowe explained.

Conspicuous in the crowd were scores of college students, laughing and joking and jockeying for camera angles. Mark Reed of the University of Florida designed his own T-shirt, featuring a recipe for Fried Bundy.

Entrepreneurs capitalized on the gathering. A Starke restaurant -- the owner wouldn't say which one -- sold doughnuts and coffee. A man who gave his name only as Rick, from "Central Florida, " hawked tiny electric chair lapel pins at $5 a pop.

The spectacle flickered and flared under the shifting gaze of TV floodlights. The air was poisonous with the exhaust from 10 acres of cars, recreational vehicles and mobile broadcast units.

James Sewell was assistant chief of the Florida State University campus police when Bundy attacked the Chi Omega house. He was first on the bloody scene. Now chief of the Gulfport, Fla., police, Sewell studied the carnival before entering the prison to witness the execution.

"The victims of Ted Bundy deserve more than that, " Sewell said of the demonstration. "Theatrics don't belong here. It cheapens the whole process."

About 30 opponents of the death penalty prayed silently as the hour approached. They, too, had their posters.

One commented on the fact that 296 prisoners remain on Florida's Death Row, the nation's largest. While only five men have been executed in Florida since the beginning of 1986, the prison takes in about 50 newly condemned inmates each year.

"Death Row grows, " said the banner, "the problems remain the same."

It was an issue apparent to death penalty backers as well. "I don't believe there's any deterrent in the death penalty as long as this amount of time elapses, " said Wendy Nelson, mother of a murdered girl.

Yet for all the clamor and uproar over Bundy's lengthy stay on Death Row, no mention was made of the more than 50 doomed inmates still surviving in Florida who have been under sentence longer than Bundy.

"He cheated the chair for 11 years, " said Gov. Bob Martinez, downplaying questions about emotions after the execution he'd ordered. "If there was ever anyone . . . who deserved the electric chair, it was Ted Bundy."

Martinez's office had taken fewer than a dozen phone calls about the execution early Tuesday -- all supportive, an aide said. Monday night, after Martinez appeared on ABC's Nightline, 30 people telephoned the governor's mansion -- half in protest of the execution, half supportive.

All of the protesting phone calls, according to Martinez chief of operations Brian Ballard, came from out of state.

After the coroner completed his work -- the cause of death is always listed as "homicide" -- Bundy's body was to be carried to the Williams-Thomas funeral home in Gainesville. Burial plans were not released. Ken Robinson, a tall and burly Florida Highway Patrol trooper, was the man who discovered the body of Kimberly Leach. He, too, was in the tiny room where 24 official witnesses watched the execution.

"I've relived the whole thing several times, " said Robinson. "Every time Bundy came up.

"Maybe now I can rest easier, now that justice is done."

Mark Silva, Herald capital bureau chief, contributed to this report.

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