Drifter admits murdering 5 college students in Fla.

February 16, 1994|By New York Times News Service

MIAMI -- With relatives of his victims gathered in the courtroom and his trial about to begin, the man accused of murdering five college students in Gainesville, Fla., in 1990 stunned onlookers girding for a long and gruesome trial by pleading guilty yesterday to all charges against him.

"There are some things you just can't run from, this being one of those," the defendant, Danny Harold Rolling, told Judge Stan R. Morris of Florida Circuit Court yesterday morning in Gainesville, where jury selection had been scheduled to start yesterday.

After maintaining his innocence since being charged with the murders in 1991, Rolling, a 39-year-old drifter from Louisiana, acknowledged that he had stabbed the five students to death during a crime spree in late August 1990. Rolling also pleaded guilty to three charges of sexual battery and three of armed burglary.

Rolling now faces the possibility of a death sentence by electrocution for the murders, a penalty he was aware of when he decided to enter the guilty plea, his lawyer, Rick Parker, said at a news conference yesterday.

Nevertheless, Mr. Parker added, "he does not wish to be executed," and evidence of mental illness will be presented during the penalty phase of the case. Jury selection for that phase is to begin today.

The killings spread a wave of fear across campuses throughout Florida, prompting some students to withdraw from college.

Three of the murder victims were students at the University of Florida in Gainesville, and the other two were enrolled at Santa Fe Community College, also in Gainesville.

Rolling, a police officer's son from Shreveport who was wanted in Louisiana on charges of attempting to murder his father, is already serving a prison term in Florida for a series of crimes in Florida that in the end helped link him to the student murders.

Despite Rolling's guilty plea, a jury must still be picked to recommend his punishment. Rod Smith, the chief prosecutor, said he would seek the death penalty; under Florida law, Judge Morris will have the final say on any sentence.

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