Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

The Trial

If Rolling had hoped that a guilty plea would save him from the shame of having the details of his crimes made public he was sorely disappointed.  State Attorney Rod Smith had no intention of leaving out any of the details of Rolling's crimes as he presented his death penalty case.  One by one he brought forward the state's evidence against Rolling: the DNA matches with semen found at three of the sites; items found at Rolling's campsite including the screwdriver, duct tape and a pair of black pants stained with Manuel Taboada's blood; a handwriting match from a note found at one of the scenes; the many details of the murders and the crime scenes told to inmates by Rolling; proof of Rolling's purchase of a Ka-Bar knife matching the one that was used in the murders; the handwritten confession given to Rusty Binstead by Rolling and finally the videotaped confession Rolling made to investigators through Bobby Lewis.

Smith then presented the long list of Rolling's violent crimes, which alone constituted a strong mitigating factor.  In total Rolling was held responsible for eight counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted robbery, one count of armed bank robbery and two counts of aggravated assault of a police officer, committed over four states.  To further confirm in the jury's mind that Danny Rolling was a violent and sadistic killer who knew exactly what he was doing, Smith described in detail how Rolling tortured his victims.  How he had told them everything he planned to do to them before he killed them, adding to the horror and fear they were already experiencing before they died.  Proving that these crimes were committed during sexual battery and were particularly heinous and cruel.

Smith told the jury that the evidence he had presented established beyond every reasonable doubt that Danny Harold Rolling was guilty of all of the crimes alleged in the indictment and only the death sentence could respond to the horror Rolling had created.

The difficult task of proving to the jury that, despite the nature of his crimes, Danny Rolling did not deserve to die, was given to John J. Kearns, recognized in 1986 as the state's outstanding public defender.

To support their case, that Danny Rolling, a victim of constant physical and emotional abuse at the hands of his father during his childhood, was mentally ill and not accountable for his actions, the defense team presented numerous relatives and friends and a barrage of psychiatrists who had spent a total of fifty hours evaluating Rolling.  The first witnesses, neighbors and family members who had been witness to Rolling's formative years, laid the foundation for the defense case but the videotaped testimony of Rolling's mother, Claudia Rolling, proved to be the most revealing and humanizing.

Talking to both John Kearns, for the defense, and Jim Nilon, for the prosecution, Claudia Rolling told the story of her family and her eldest son's life.


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