Last Updated: 10:39 p.m.
RAIFORD–From the vacant field along State Road 16 in Raiford, across the road from the state prison where Louis Gaskin was killed by lethal injection this evening, the only sign that the execution had taken place were the three vans that exited the prison grounds around 6:20 p.m., filled with those who had witnessed the death.
Among them were media, state officials, and three of the law enforcement officers in Flagler County who had investigated the 1989 double-murder and elicited Gaskin’s confession: Warnell Williams, the lieutenant in charge of the investigation, detective Jim Schweers, and Marc Carman, a young detective near the beginning of his long career with the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office.
“It was surreal. That’s the only word I can think about,” Carman said this evening. “I thought personally that he seemed to be at peace with it.” He did make a statement, but neither Carman nor others understood what he said. He heard something to the effect of “the man does the crime,” then Gaskin seemed to speak of the appeals process.
The execution itself took about 15 minutes. Gaskin was not agitated, Carman said. “He didn’t seem to be in pain. One time it seemed like his breathing was speeding up, then all of a sudden it slowed down. He just seemed to go to sleep.”
Carman said the case, for him and others who worked on it, “was the biggest case of their careers.” But witnessing the execution had its effects. “For me it was a solemn experience. I don’t think I’d probably do it again.”
He had witnessed the results of Gaskin’s murder and shooting spree first hand, in all its brutality and seeming wantonness. It was Carman who arrested Gaskin after an all-night stake-out at 803 Hymon Circle in Bunnell, using a pair of handcuffs he has never used again, and kept since in a safe.
Yet he was not eager to see him die. “It’s going to sound strange,” Carman said. “He’s been in there a long time. I thought it was a really horrific, gruesome crime. But it wouldn’t have bothered me if he just did life in prison.”
In the vacant field before the execution, a group of three or four dozen opponents of the death penalty, most of them from Volusia and a few from Flagler counties, sang and prayed (“Precious Lord, Take My Hand”) in a service led by Father Phil Egitto of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona Bach. They stood and sat, several of them with signs (“Not in My Name”), roughly within an enclosure prepared for them by state police near a sign that said: “OPPONENTS.”
About 30 yards away, under a stately oak, seven units of the Florida Highway Patrol were in a gathering of their own, though with a different purpose. They were there for security. Just past them, a few more yards away, was the enclosure with the sign that read: “SUPPORTERS.” Only a couple had showed up there this evening. In the past, there were occasions when “supporters” would have their own displays, including images of the victim or victims.
At 6 p.m., the time the state says the actual execution takes place, several members of the “opponents” took a hammer or a stick, and each in turn tolled a bell loud enough for death row inmates to hear. “Not in my name,” some of them said as they tolled.
Gaskin, 56, this evening became the first person convicted in Flagler County ever to be executed. Three other inmates from Flagler County who’ve been on death row in recent years all had their sentences commuted.
Gaskin was 22 when he shot and killed 56-year-old Robert Sturmfels and 55-year-old Georgette Sturmfels at 10 Ripley Place in Palm Coast, ransacking their house, before going to 1 Ricker Place, where he fired at Noreen and Joseph Rector, severely wounding Joseph before the couple was able to escape by car to Memorial Hospital. Joseph survived.
“It took me a long time to come to grips with what happened that night,” Noreen Rector wrote FlaglerLive last week. “I’m sure I had PTSD from fear, the terror of the phone lines being cut, the gunshot through the window, having to run outside and drive to the hospital while shots were being fired at us, sharing what we thought would be our last words, just trying to figure out what the hell had just happened to us.”
She and Joseph divorced after 34 years of marriage. “So here I am, 33 years later being asked by the Governor’s office if I want to witness the execution (really?). And by reporters how I feel about the death warrant being signed. Consequently, I have had to reflect, relive, remember all that has happened since that night. I would be satisfied if Louis remained in prison, without the possibility of release. I don’t believe the death penalty serves any purpose.”
No Gaskin family members turned up for his execution. He is believed to have two half-siblings. One of the people in the group of opponents was Ron Wright, Jr., who’d been sentenced to death after a jury recommended death in a 7-5 vote and spent three years on death row before becoming the 27th death row inmate in Florida to be exonerated. There have been 30 exonerations so far.
“My biggest reason for opposing the death penalty is simply because we’ve proven 30 times now, here in the state of Florida alone, that we cannot do this correctly if we can’t get it right every time. Anything we can’t do right I don’t believe we should be doing at all,” Wright said, about 20 minutes before 6 p.m. “There was a quote a friend of mine said years ago that you can free an innocent man from a jail cell, but you can never free anyone from the grave. And that was Freddie Pitts, a former death row inmate.” He, too, was exonerated. “And he’s absolutely right. Because until we absolutely know the truth and know the things we don’t know, we don’t know if we’re getting this right or wrong.”
Wright is now a board member of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (FADP), one of three exonerated men on the board. He continued: “To the credit of those who advocate for the death penalty and wanting people held accountable and punished for their crimes, there is none of that in death. The punishment is waking up every day, day in and day out, inside those walls, behind those bars and keys and locks and having all that time to regret what you did.” As he spoke he pointed at the prison across the road and its six blocks of grimy-white buildings, guard towers shaped like air traffic controller towers at each cardinal point. “But death: Like I said, there’s no more punishment. There’s no rehabilitation, there’s no changing. You’re just gone and the biggest problem with that is, what good or benefit is that anyone else? That’s never going to bring a loved one back. That’s never going to change what’s happened. It’s not going to rewrite history. So what are we really accomplishing by executing somebody?”
To Father Phil, it looked as if the state was moving away from the death penalty–getting rid of non-unanimous jury verdicts, reducing executions in the last few years. “So we had been progressing along but I do think that with the last election, I have a lot less hope than I had before,” he said. “It seems as though they think that this is being tough on crime and it’s not.”
He called the state’s killing “premeditated murder.” Understanding feelings of revenge, recognizing the loss and pain that has been inflicted on victims, he said an additional death doesn’t bring anyone back, nor does it get rid of the pain. It adds another dearth.
“And so we’re here to bring Christ’s love and mercy and forgiveness to this moment,” he said, “because the only way to extinguish darkness is with light. Not with more darkness. So I don’t know that what we do changes anything, but I know that it changes us because someone has been killed in our name. … And I am here to say Not In My name is the blood of Louis Gaskin on me.”
Executive Director of Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty Maria DeLiberato, a former assistant state attorney in Miami, was also among those in the gathering across the road from the prison. Gaskin’s execution, she said, would not have happened in any other state in the country but for Florida’s lower standard on jury recommendations. All other states require a unanimous verdict. (In fact, so did Florida, briefly, but the Legislature reversed that law this spring.)
Echoing polls to that effect, DeLiberato said the majority of Floridians don’t favor the death penalty. “It is our lawmakers and our governor that are interpreting one specific verdict in South Florida and the Parkland case that they believe was a travesty of justice, and that is the motivation to change the death penalty law and to restart executions,” she said. “I do not believe that people of the state of Florida truly want the death penalty and want to be a state that executes someone every single month. This is coming from our leader.”
The next execution has already been scheduled. On April 5, Ron DeSantis signed a death warrant for Darryl Barwick, 56, convicted of murdering a Bay County woman in 1986.
More to follow eventually. I get having compassion & the articles relaying what these folks 33-34 years removed from the event(s). Like anything procrastinated, there are always going to be regrets. Give anyone 30+ years to move on from being involved as a juror & these are their interviews for opinion(s) on the topic. In every one of the death sentences, stabbed 17 times, others buried alive or lit on fit after being bludgeoned by a crow bar in the woods ? Just me, but no passage of time would diminish the torture & torment the true victims endured. Can imagine death row no being an easy 30+ years, still not the hell they put their murder victims thru. I just feel an obligation to be true to the innocence of the victims.
Steve Robinson says
Seems to me that if a governor is required to sign a death warrant then he/she should be required to be present and preside over every execution. Some might relish the opportunity to appear to be tough on crime, but as Mr. Carman so eloquently stated, having attended one he is not likely to do it again.
Joseph Barand says
This Catholic Priest would better serve if he work to eliminate the Pedifiles in his own ranks. Talk about people that deserve the death penalty rather than being move or promoted within the Church. This has gone on to long and has never properly investigated or punished. Maybe the Catholic Church needs to be shut down once and for all.
Are you going to only single out one church, or do you think only Catholic priests can be pedophiles. Maybe, just maybe, the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, other religious groups need to be shut down too. Ridiculous.
Oddly, the Southern Baptist Convention has recently acknowledged it has the same problem with sexual abuse as the Catholic Church. You want to shut them down as well?
Randy Stroud says
Primary observation; the crimes involved clearly merited the death penalty.
That said, the death penalty, nor any criminal penalty, is supposed to be about ‘revenge’ – our criminal penalties are supposedly to be about ‘deterrence’, discouraging future criminal activity. However, in order for ANY punishment to have Deterrent value, it HAS to be certain and quick. A death penalty which takes 30-40 years to carry out is not ‘quick’ and is therefore not much of a deterrent. A death penalty that MIGHT be carried out 30-40 years into the future provides little value as a deterrent. In order for his execution to provide a deterrent value, This individual should have been executed within a couple years of his original sentencing – at the most. Otherwise, may as well live out his life in prison wherein his incarceration will ensure he carries out no more home invasions.
Jack Howell says
I totally agree with you, Randy. Unfortunately, the legal system drags this out so that the public and media long forget a crime committed 30 years ago until the death warrant is carried out. Back in the seventies, when Florida returned the death penalty as punishment, it did initially have the chilling result you speak about, especially “Old Sparky”. In this case, the death of Gaskin will have little if any impact on changing the killings that happen every day.
Death penalty, abortion. Both results are the same but the reasoning is different. Abortion the person didn’t have a chance to live, the death penalty is because the accused killed another person, took their life. Is the death penalty right, abortion right, murder right? The sad common denominator is they all end with death. If murder is wrong, is self defense right. Is it right to abort the being that is still in the womb? If murder is wrong then why do cops continue to kill unarmed people? If the death penalty is right, there should be a lot of murderous cops on death row. If I kill a white man in proven self defense will the death penalty await me? If a white man kill me for target practice will freedom await him? Is it right to murder? Is it wrong to stand for life? Wow!
Something wrong with this picture. Why does someone be allowed to sit in prison for 33 years if they are convicted to the death penalty. I can see one year for an appeals time but 33 years is absolutely ridiculous. Talk about antiquated laws in Florida this is another one.
Did you happen to notice that there have been 30 people exonerated in Florida after being sentenced to death than found to be not guilty?
rome is a cult check out all the abuse in baltimore maryland pedophile
priests in this cult who have a false gospel. call no man your father
on earth but your father in heaven.whosoever sheddeth mans blood
his blood be shed. genesis 9-6. the death penalty is biblical, rome has
a false gospel which leads to hell.
Lance Carroll says
Rome is not the Catholic Church. Vatican is the hometown of the Catholic Church. Vatican is it’s own country…I think, smallest populated country in the world…. approximately one square mile. Vatican may also be the wealthiest country….housing massive amounts of gold and real estate throughout the world. And…yes, multitudes of evil pedophiles, just like the other disgustingness that weaves our fabric. Rome is not the Vatican. Don’t bombed Rome. If you want to target The Vatican, bomb The Vatican. Lots of Catholic Priests reached out to families and children in the ghetto I was born into. Many of them were pedophiles.
They put this guy to death, but not the Parkland school shooter who killed 17 people in one swipe. There’s zero standards in law.
There are few if any rich people on death row
Michael Cocchiola says
I hate the death penalty. It’s barbaric. And more so after incarceration on “death row” for 33 years.
People change. Lewis Gaskin today is not the person he was 33 years ago.
I can only hope that America will finally grow up and recognize that vengeance in the form of state-sponsored murder is not what advanced – woke – nations do.
Mr. Cocchiola: That is my problem with the death penalty.
No so-called doctor or corrections officer should consider
murdering an inmate as part of their profession.
John Yankovich says
The state has the obligation to protect society at large! The prisoner was executed not “killed”, his victims were killed (actually murdered)! He lived 33 years longer than his victims on the taxpayers expense. He can explain everything to his maker. No loss here!
John please explain the difference between killed and executed. The results are the same.
C’mon man says
They both mean someone is dead but he’s referring to the context. Whereas one was executed for a crime and the others were sitting in their own home, minding their own business and they were killed
If a person viciously and intentionally kills other people, then that killer deserves to be executed. However, I do agree totally with Randy Stroud that there is too long a wait to execute the killer and we pay for his or her upkeep all that time. To me, the execution should be done within a five year period. This gives attorneys enough time for appeals, further investigation if they choose to do so. Actually if it is known to be absolutely true and proof positive the accused really did the crime, as in the Gaskin case, the execution should’ve taken place within a year. Why should a horrible killer be “allowed to take a person or persons lives’, destroy families and be allowed to live? That killer could’ve cared less about the lives he took. JMO
The DNA technology is very recent. Prior to this scientific advance, how many innocent people were executed? We know of 30 exonerated in Floriduh. What will be the next technology that will change the way we determine guilt?
Can't believe it says
One of your commentators sounds like the voice of nothing more than a whining court appointed defense attorney who would likely have a different opinion if this happened to his family.
Land of no turn signals says says
Once landing on death row one should get 2 appeals no more.Pay per view should be an option.Profits could help offset the cost of the incarceration.
Your mind is polluted.
-How about pay-per-view classes to teach you proper grammar usage?
-Get some Silly String and weave a straight jacket for yourself.
-Ask yourself: Am I a redneck?
IMO, this was way over do. The remaining family members finally got justice for their loved ones. I hate it took 30+ years on the tax payers dime. Now he can answer to a higher authority for what he did to two innocent people. May they both now R.I.P.
@Now we know
Now we know who the sick shits, among all of us shits, are the ones who want to watch snuff porn — it does pair well with their religious/political (I know — redundant) beliefs.
The more I see of men, the more I like dogs.
Speak truths says
Y’all left out the whites burned down the blacks school & was hanging blacks in bunnell for crossing the ditch after dark riding around with shot guns killing innocent black children which stroked him to loose it white ppl were the cause of this face it if u don’t kno the true story behind this shut up n do ur homework of course they weren’t gonna put that in a article the white in bunnell killed a bunch of his family members but again that part of the story has been left out 2 wrongs don’t make a right but tell the whole story next time and not just the ending weird mfs