TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – Evan Donovan witnessed the execution of Bobby Joe Long in Raiford, Florida. Long, Tampa Bay’s notorious serial killer.
You can read more about the Bobby Joe Long case here. The following are the latest updates from Evan Donovan:
The man with the mustache hangs up the phone and says something to the effect of “the sentence of death in the case of State of Florida vs. Robert Long has been carried out at 6:55 p.m.”
The beige curtain covering the large pane of glass lowers.
Bobby Joe Long has been executed.
A corrections official asks the media to stay seated while the official witnesses exit.
None of them are talking or showing much emotion.
They slowly file out.
The nine media representatives remain seated for a few minutes, then we are finally escorted out, and back into the vans to return to the media staging area across the street.
As we pull out, we pass the white hearse Long’s body will be loaded into as it waits outside of the jail.
A woman emerges from behind a brown curtain at the back right of the small room ahead of us.
She’s wearing a white medical jacket. She has long black hair and moves deliberately towards Long.
She forces open Long’s eyes and shines a small but bright pen light into his right eye, then his left.
She puts her stethoscope in her ears and pulls back the sheet to listen for Long’s heartbeat in several places.
She puts both hands below his jaw on his neck, presumably to feel for a pulse from his carotid arteries.
As she walks away from him, Long’s mouth is agape. She disappears behind the curtain.
The mustachioed man picks up the phone on the wall.
Long is not moving at all anymore.
He has not opened his eyes since we entered the room.
Everyone is watching intently.
And more waiting.
The bespectacled man on the right scribbles something on his pad.
I can barely see Long’s chest moving now.
The man with the mustache in the room with Long stands over him.
It’s not clear what he’s looking for.
There’s no movement from any of the men in the small room we’re watching. Feels like even less on our side of the glass.
A fly lands on the head of a man two rows in front of me, and he swats it away. It’s the most anyone has moved in minutes, with the exception of reporters, some of whom are feverishly writing notes (including myself).
Everything is silent except for the whir of the air conditioner. Witnesses in the crowd are watching intently. Some crane their necks to see over or beside people in the rows ahead of them.
The only movement you can see from Long now is the very slow rise and fall of his chest as he takes breathes.
Long is not moving at all now except for his breathing. The man in the center of the room walks over and touches his fingers to Long’s cheek. He then grabs Long’s shoulders and shakes him had with both hands.
There is no response. Long’s eyes are fully closed.
Long is showing very little movement now. His body is calm. His breathing is very slow and regular.
More heavy breathing. Long’s body begins to move slightly. There’s an occasional, very slight twitch as his shoulder pushes up under the sheet.
Whether in anticipation of something happening or as a reaction to the first drug, etomidate, being delivered into his system, Long’s breathing begins to pick up.
His mouth opens. He’s taking deliberate, deep breaths as his chest begins to rise and fall more noticeably.
He’s exhaling through his mouth, and his jaw begins to move slightly side-to-side.
The air conditioner turns off.
After hanging up the phone, the man with the mustache asks Long if he has any last statement.
In a soft voice, Long says simply “no.”
The mustachioed man says the preparation phase is now over, and the execution will begin.
The air conditioner turns back on.
The curtain goes up. Bobby Joe Long is lying on his back on a gurney with his feet facing toward us in a small white room.
His eyes are closed. His hair is mostly white with specks of black. He has a light beard of the same color.
He’s covered in a white sheet all the way from his neck over his feet. His hands are bound with brown elastic bandages to armrests jutting out from each side of the gurney. His wrists are tied with leather straps with silver buckles.
Above him is a black digital clock with red lettering. Next to it, hung on the wall, is a tan landline phone.
There are three white men who look to be in their 50s standing in the room with him. A bald man with a thick black mustache is closest to Long, in the center of the room, facing out towards us. He will be the only one who speaks the entire time we’re there.
There’s another man standing on our right in that room with small-wired reading glasses, occasionally jotting things down on a pad and paper. The last man is standing on the left, just in front of the glass, with his back towards us.
The man with the mustache picks up the phone.
We enter the room. It’s tiny, maybe 20 feet wide by 12 feet long. The ceiling is probably 8 feet tall but the seats are elevated so it feels even shorter.
It’s packed. There are four rows of seats with 10 chairs each and all but one are taken with only a few feet left on the entrance side of the room, with two corrections officials standing in that space.
An air conditioning unit is blasting cold air into the room from the back right corner. Everyone is facing a large clear window at the front of the small room with a beige curtain pulled down.
There are 26 witnesses in the front three rows including a spiritual advisor and one of Long’s attorneys. Several corrections officials are also seated. The nine media witnesses are seated in the back row.
I recognize Lisa McVey Noland, she’s sitting second from the right wall in the front row, flanked by two white-haired men, one on each side.
Chanel Williams’ family is to the left of them–her mother Lula, uncle Gerald and younger sister Algalana Douglas.
A woman is silently weeping with her head bowed down in front of her. Another woman in the third row passes her some tissues.
Kim Swann’s sister (Tammy Kaspi) and cousin (Lisa Rich) are in the second row.
In the third row right in front of me but slightly to the right is a man wearing a white polo shirt. There’s a picture of all ten of Long’s murder victims with the words “The Ones That Matter” written above them.
I would later find out it was Frank Elliott, Vicky Elliott’s brother, seated next to her brother Jeffrey Sienko and other relatives.
It’s time. Michelle Glady, communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections, tells us to lineup at the door. We walk down several long hallways and make a brief stop at a four-way hall junction with “Time Square” written on the floor.
We finally get to a long, west-facing hallway with the sun beating through open double-doors at the end, shining off the linoleum floor. We walk through the doors, down a long ramp and back into the vans for a short ride to a separate building.
We’re standing now outside what we all presume to be the final destination, both for our journey to the viewing room and Bobby Joe Long’s life.
Everyone is silent. The sun is beating down. The small talk is over. There’s a pregnant feeling as we wait for what seems like minutes outside the door.
A corrections official lightly taps on the door’s window. Huge locks inside the door tumble over, and the door itself opens. A nice-looking bald black man with a beige blazer pokes his head out and lets us in.
The scheduled execution of Bobby Joe Long was temporarily delayed while the U.S. Supreme Court considered his final appeals.
Priests outside the prison who were protesting against the death penalty said those appeals were denied. The U.S. Supreme Court later confirmed the last-ditch appeals from Long were denied, clearing the way for the lethal injection.
Reporter Evan Donovan is now inside the prison where Bobby Joe Long is scheduled to be executed. The WFLA Digital Team is updating while he is inside because he was not allowed to bring in any electronics.
A crowd has gathered outside the Florida State Prison as Long’s execution is set to take place. It appears there is a makeshift religious ceremony taking place.
Some people in the crowd are protesting the death penalty.
We arrived at the prison entrance and went through several layers of security, including a very sensitive metal detector and several contingent prison gates, where the door to continue won’t open until the one behind us closes.
We walk down a hallway and are ushered into the visitation room where many inmates are able to see visitors.
There are several vending machines. A few small murals on the wall that cruelly paint a view of an island paradise through an “open window,” or a “crack” in the wall that reveals a gorgeous blue sky with puffy clouds.
We’re told this is where we wait until the execution is ready, and any last-minute stays could keep us here indefinitely.
The reporters group up and talk amongst each other at three different tables. I joined the print guys to talk about the state of the industry, how to get people to pay for good journalism, and what television news is going to look like in 10-20 years.
NOTE: I am writing from this point forward offline, and will upload it to the blog (here) later, since I cannot bring anything but identification into the prison.
The vans have arrived to take us to the prison to witness the execution. Nine media representatives are gathered:
John Koch of UPI
Brendan Farrington of Associated Press
Daniel Smithson of the Gainesville Sun
Doug Montero of National Enquirer
Kathryn Varn of Tampa Bay Times
Michael Paluska of ABC Action News
Jennifer Titus of CBS 10 News
Lloyd Sowers of Fox 13 News
While that piece explains some of the practical arguments for and against the death penalty, it does not address the moral question.
Here are two videos with competing viewpoints that do:
There are obviously many arguments for and against the death penalty. A few weeks ago, I presented both sides in an effort to quantify the costs, financial and otherwise, of carrying out the death penalty:
We’ve just received a briefing from Michelle Glady, the communications director for the Florida Department of Corrections, about Long’s final meal and his day so far.
“Mr. Long woke up today around 7:45 a.m.,” she said. “He had his last meal at 9:30 a.m. He requested a roast beef sandwich, bacon, fries and soda. Mr. Long did not have any visitors.”
Glady was not sure what type of soda he had, nor whether he had any visitors yesterday or earlier this week.
I asked if she could describe Long’s mood.
“He was calm, quiet,” Glady said.
Associated Press reporter asked whether Long took a sedative, Glady said that is part of the protocol, so she can’t confirm at this time whether he did, but she’ll be able to do so at a later time.
Same reporter also asked whether Long was visited by a chaplain.
“He was not visited by a spiritual advisor today, however, it’s my understanding that one will be on the witness list,” Glady said.
We are now awaiting the shuttle to arrive at the media staging area to take us into the prison to witness the execution, which is scheduled to arrive at 4:45. Once we board the shuttles and head into the prison, we will not have access to phones or any other devices until the execution is complete.
We’ve arrived at the prison in the media staging area. You can see both facilities here, Florida State Prison and Union Correctional Institution.
Both are in wide open spaces on many acres of land. There’s not much else around for miles.
So far, there are no protesters gathered outside the prison in the area we are.
The show Forensic Files also did a profile of this case, centered around Lisa McVey Noland, the woman who helped catch Long. He abducted and raped her over a 24-hour period, then miraculously let her go.
She peeked under her blindfold and remembered crucial details that led investigators to Long. You can see more of her story here:
Bobby Joe Long, like all of Florida’s death row inmates, will get to request a final meal. But there are specific rules around what can be requested.
From the Department of Corrections:
‘A food service director, or his/her designee, will personally prepare and serve the inmate’s last meal. The inmate will be allowed to request specific food and nonalcoholic drink to the extent such food and drink costs forty dollars ($40) or less, is available at the institution, and is approved by the food service director.’
There have been numerous documentaries about the case of Bobby Joe Long. Here is a long-form piece that we put together yesterday about the history behind his crimes:
Florida executes inmates on death row by two methods: lethal injection and the electric chair. Long will be executed tonight by lethal injection, something his attorneys argued, ultimately unsuccessfully, was an administration of cruel and unusual punishment.
From the Florida DOC website:
In January 2000, the Florida Legislature passed legislation that allows lethal injection as an alternative method of execution in Florida. Florida administers executions by lethal injection or electric chair at the execution chamber located at Florida State Prison. The three-legged electric chair was constructed from oak by Department of Corrections personnel in 1998 and was installed at Florida State Prison (FSP) in Raiford in 1999. The previous chair was made by inmates from oak in 1923 after the Florida Legislature designated electrocution as the official mode of execution. (Prior to that, executions were carried out by counties, usually by hanging.)
According to Florida’s Department of Corrections, only two women have been executed since 1924, compared to 291 men.
The last was Aileen Wuornos, known for killing at least seven men between 1989 and 1990 in Florida. She was portrayed by Charlize Theron in the 2003 film “Monster,” earning Theron an Academy Award for Best Actress.
Of the 341 inmates on Florida’s death row, 150 of them are from the Tampa Bay area, with the most being convicted in Hillsborough County.
The last inmate to be executed from Tampa Bay was Patrick Hannon, who was put to death in November 2017 for slitting Brandon Snider’s throat following a disagreement, then shooting and killing Snider’s roommate, Robert Carter.
The last person to be executed in Florida was Jose Jimenez on Dec. 13, 2018.
Jimenez was convicted of killing two women in their apartments in separate incidents two years apart.
Florida has executed 97 inmates since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. For the 12 years preceding, there was a moratorium on executing inmates.
Between 1924 and 1964, Florida executed 197 inmates.
We’re on the road. In scrolling through the list of death row inmates, it appears all of them are charged with first-degree murder, except one – Johnathan Alcegaire. He was convicted of three counts of felony murder (among other charges) for the 2016 slayings of three people at a “drug house” in Polk County.
9:30 a.m., (May 23):
We’re getting ready to take off from Tampa for the three-hour drive to Raiford, where the Florida State Prison is located and where Bobby Joe Long sits on death row.
Florida Department of Corrections has extensive information on death row inmates. There are currently 341 people sitting on death row in the state of Florida. Of those, this is how they list the demographic breakdown:
- 202 white males
- 127 black males
- 9 other males
- 1 white female
- 2 black females
6 p.m. (May 22):
We’re exactly 24 hours away from the scheduled execution of Bobby Joe Long. Photojournalist Dave Kraut and I will be driving to Raiford tomorrow morning to cover the execution for 8 On Your Side.
Witnessing the death of human being, no matter how heinous their actions may be, is nothing to take lightly–particularly when it’s being carried out by a state government.
8 On Your Side is covering this execution precisely because we were there when his story began, and we will be there when it ends.
Florida Department of Correction policy states at least one reporter “must represent a news organization that covers the county in which the condemned inmate committed the crime for which he or she was sentenced to death.” And we intend to be there to represent our viewers.
Many of you have contacted me expressing feelings across the spectrum about his impending death. The death penalty is a divisive issue. I understand your feelings, no matter which side you’re on.
I took this assignment knowing the gravity of the situation. I am approaching the day with professionalism, not morbid curiosity.
Feel free to send me any feedback at those social media accounts, or you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.