A twice-convicted murderer who has lived on Florida's death row for more than 3 decades is scheduled to die by lethal injection this week for killing a St. Petersburg mother — but like many executions, why he is being killed now and why it didn't happen years ago are both something of a mystery.
If 65-year-old Robert Brian Waterhouse is executed Wednesday at Florida State Prison near Starke, he will have lingered on death row longer than any of the previous 276 people executed by the state, according to the Department of Corrections. He's spent more than 31 years mostly by himself in a 6-by-9-foot cell as his various appeals worked their way through the courts.
Just 18 of the 395 people currently on death row have been there longer than Waterhouse, who was sentenced in September 1980 for raping and killing 29-year-old Deborah Kammerer.
No one in Gov. Rick Scott's office would talk in detail about the process that led him to pick Waterhouse over others whose appeals have run their course. It's the 3rd death warrant Scott has signed since taking office in January 2011.
"Governor Scott takes his legal duty to sign death warrants very seriously and is committed to following the law in as thoughtful and deliberative a manner as possible. There are many factors that bear upon the governor's decision each time he must choose to sign a death warrant, which is always on a case-by-case basis," his aides said in a statement.
Asked about it at an appearance in Tampa last week, Scott said he sits down with a team of staffers and goes through the roster of death row inmates who have exhausted their appeals.
"I spend a lot of time praying about it and thinking about it, and it's a hard decision," he said. "There is not ever one issue" that leads to an inmate being selected to die.
Others familiar with the process say that because many condemned inmates' cases are in various stages of appeal and new litigation is filed all the time, there is never a clear choice for the governor.
The attorney general's office is charged with keeping track of the status of cases, and generally responds to requests from the governor regarding individual inmates who've been through their major appeals and the clemency process, and would likely be unsuccessful with any appeals filed after the death warrant is signed. Typically, they're inmates who haven't initiated any new litigation in a number of years.
Craig Trocino, who handled death row appeals for years before going to work for a University of Miami law school clinic, said the "incredibly secretive" nature of the governor's selection process has always disturbed death penalty opponents.
"There was no logic to any it, as far as we could tell, and nobody was speaking about it," Trocino said. "If it's really above-board, the governor would open his book and say 'This is the procedure I take in determining this.'"
University of Florida law professor George R. "Bob" Dekle, a former prosecutor who sent notorious serial killer Ted Bundy to death row, said Florida governors have rarely been forthcoming about the reasons they select one inmate over all the others for execution.
Dekle said appellate lawyers do their best to make sure it's not an easy choice for the governor. They file whatever they can for as long as they can to keep their cases alive in the courts. New issues based on recent court rulings and changes in the law provide new fodder for appeals all the time, he said.
"It's guerilla warfare," Dekle said. "As long as you can put it off, as long as you can delay, as long as you can keep the thing going in any way, shape or form possible, that's how much time you've got."
Time appears to be running out for Waterhouse, whose latest appeal to the Florida Supreme Court was denied Wednesday. Federal appeals are expected to be mounted as his execution approaches.
The body of Waterhouse's victim was found washed up on the tidal flats of Tampa Bay on Jan. 3, 1980. She'd been raped, beaten and dragged into the surf, where she drowned.
Unable to identify her immediately, police turned to the public for help. Neighbors identified Kammerer's body, and an anonymous tipster led police to Waterhouse, who was on parole for a New York killing. He had pleaded guilty to 2nd-degree murder for killing a 77-year-old Long Island woman during a 1966 burglary. He was sentenced to life but was paroled after 8 years.
In the Kammerer case, a bartender had seen her and Waterhouse leave a St. Petersburg bar together. Blood, hair and fibers in Waterhouse's car were linked to the victim. Waterhouse admitted having sex with Kammerer but denied killing her.
Gov. Bob Graham signed a death warrant for Waterhouse in 1985, but his execution was delayed by an appeal that eventually got him a new sentencing hearing. That hearing in 1990 ended like the first, with a jury recommending execution by a 12-0 vote and a judge sentencing him to death.
One of Kammerer's daughters told the Tampa Bay Times that she didn't know yet if she or any of her siblings will come to Florida to witness the execution.
"It's long overdue," said Wendy Mistry, 43, who lives near Dallas. "We didn't forget about it, but we put it in the back of our minds. You don't really ever forget."
(source: Associated Press)