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Crime News Mark of a Serial Killer

Gainesville Ripper Danny Rolling Sang Gospel Before Execution, With No Mention Of His Young Victims

Danny Rolling was sentenced to death for a spree of horrific murders in northern Florida — but his last moments were chilling in their own way.

By Oxygen Staff

Danny Rolling became a household name in the 1990s after he “ripped” through northern Florida on a murderous rampage in August 1990, killing five students in quick succession. Gruesome crime scenes and evidence of extreme sexual violence had sent a chill up the collective spine of this otherwise normal, muggy town.

There was no redemption for Rolling on this earth: he was sentenced to death for each of his five murders, and despite protests of the death penalty and an appeal, he was administered a lethal injection on October 25, 2006, at Florida State Prison. Rolling is featured on the Oxygen series “Mark of a Killer,” which delves into the psyches of serial killers focusing on their postmortem signatures.

What did this man have to say for himself in his final moments?

Well, he had a considerable amount to express — in song. Rolling sang gospel verses for two minutes. He was of the Pentecostal faith, and seemingly attempted to regale the crowd of 47 people — some of whom were relatives of those he’d murdered some 16 years before — with religious song.

“He who flung the stars into the heavens above created the oceans, mountains, eagles and doves, none greater than thee oh Lord, none greater than thee,” sang the serial killer, one among five verses that mentioned nothing related to his murders, according to the Gainesville Sun.

Rolling stayed calm until the very end, ordering a luscious meal of lobster tail, butterfly shrimp, baked potato, strawberry cheesecake, and sweet tea. 

At the time of his trial, Danny Rolling was already serving four life terms for robbery and burglary.

Sordid details of the case came out when more than 1,000 pages of investigative documents were released to the public in March of 1994, during Rolling’s highly publicized trial. Rolling had planned the crimes carefully, said state attorney Rod Smith, killing four women and one man in “late-night raids” near the University of Florida campus, according to the Orlando Sentinel. 

Details of how he sliced off the nipples of Christa Hoyt, 18, and Christina Powell, 17, and how he decapitated and disemboweled Christa Hoyt horrified a jury that unanimously found him guilty on all counts. Another victim Sonja Larson, who was roommates with Christina, was also 17. Victims Tracy Paules and Manny Taboada were both 23.

Rolling, who had first entered a plea of not guilty, changing it in February 1994 to guilty on all counts, was charged with five counts of first-degree murder, three counts of sexual battery, and three counts of armed burglary of dwelling with a battery, according to court documents.

The Gainesville Sun reported that Louisiana authorities also named Danny Rolling the only suspect in the 1989 murders of the Grissom family.

According to United Press International, Rolling’s mother Claudia testified during the trial that Danny Rolling was the victim of abuse of a father that she did not divorce because she was afraid he would “go off the deep end.”

Rolling’s girlfriend testified that he did not seek help from a psychologist because, as he told her, “if my dad finds out what I said, he’ll kill me.”

[Photo: Associated Press/Chris O'Meara]