Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Danny Rolling, the Gainesville Ripper

The Killer Confesses

Throughout the time prior to his trial Rolling had trouble keeping his mouth shut and many inmates made contact with the investigating team to relate stories of Rolling's "confessions," which fluctuated between penitent admissions of sin to bragging, depending on his mood.   He formed a friendship with inmate Bobby Lewis, known as the only man to have escaped from Florida's death row.  Rolling knew that escape was the only way he would ever get out of prison. Even if he wasn't convicted for the Gainesville murders, Rolling knew that Lewis could prove a helpful friend.  In time Rolling told Lewis all about the murders in explicit detail.  He admitted that he had decided to kill while he was in prison during the eighties, long before he came to Gainesville.  He acknowledged that he had a bad side, which he couldn't always control but blamed his father's abuse and neglect, sexual abuse he experienced in prison and his ex-wife for this.  Together Rolling and Lewis planned for Rolling to fake suicide in order to stay in the same ward, and then later escape.

His escape never took place and on January 31, 1993, Rolling informed the Gainesville investigators that he wished to confess, through Bobby Lewis.  During the three-hour confession, Rolling did not answer any of the investigators questions directly but confirmed the answers given by Lewis on his behalf.  Through Lewis, Rolling effectively confessed to planning and committing the five murders in Gainesville.  He also told them that he had originally planned to kill eight people while in prison and that he would "...clear up the Shreveport homicides... after the Gainesville murders [trial]..." Rolling also shifted all responsibility for the murders onto an evil side of his personality that he called "Gemini."

While happy with Rolling's confession, the investigators didn't buy the "evil Gemini" aspect of his story, as they knew from their investigations that Rolling had watched the movie Exorcist Part III during the week of the Gainesville murders.  The killer in this movie, known as Gemini, had decapitated and disemboweled a female victim.  An attempt to recover the murder weapon in the location that Rolling had described, through Lewis, during his confession was unsuccessful.

Soon after the confession Lewis was moved from the ward, causing Rolling to feel betrayed by Lewis.  In Rusty Binstead, Rolling found a new confidante but this time instead of only telling Binstead the details he wrote them down in a letter.  He gave the original to Binstead with instructions to take a copy and then return it to him.  Instead, when Binstead returned to his cell he told the man in the next cell to wait five minutes then call out "Shakedown."  When he did, Binstead flushed his toilet to make Rolling believe that he had flushed the letter down the toilet.

Three weeks before the trial was scheduled to begin, Rolling asked for a meeting with his attorney, Public Defender C. Richard Parker.  During this meeting Rolling expressed his desire to plead guilty.  Parker attempted to convince his client that although there was a great deal of primary evidence against him and his videotaped confession had damaged his case, there was still a strong case for mitigating factors against a death sentence.  If Rolling would maintain his not-guilty plea Parker would attempt to use Rolling's life story of abuse and the many psychiatric evaluations which established Rolling's mental illness.  By pleading guilty, Parker warned, the likelihood of receiving a death sentence was much stronger, and it would leave no opportunity to have a conviction overturned in an appeal.  He would only be able to appeal the sentence.  Despite the warnings, Rolling was determined to go ahead with the change, admitting that much of the reason was that he didn't want the crime scene photographs to be shown.  Parker asked Rolling to take the three weeks before the trial date to think about it.

The week before the trial, Rolling signed a three-page plea-form at the Florida State Prison, which effectively made his new guilty plea official.  Just in case, Parker met with Judge Stanley R. Morris to inform him of his client's plea and request that it not be announced until February 15th when jury selection began.  The only person to be informed of Rolling's decision was prosecutor Rod Smith.

 

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