STARKE, Fla. — A man convicted of raping a 29-year-old mother and dragging her into Tampa Bay's surf to drown more than three decades ago was executed by lethal injection Wednesday at Florida State Prison.
Twice-convicted murderer Robert Brian Waterhouse, 65, was pronounced dead at 8:22 p.m., 11 minutes after the execution began. He had been on death row for more than 31 years — longer than any inmate previously executed in Florida. Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant last month. His execution was delayed two hours as the U.S. Supreme Court considered a last-minute appeal before rejecting it. The court had rejected a similar appeal earlier in the day.
"You are about to witness the execution of a wrongly convicted and innocent man," Waterhouse said. He blamed his conviction on corrupt prosecutors, a prejudiced judge and a "rubber-stamp" appellate system. "The state broke its own law in destroying DNA evidence in my case so I could not prove my innocence.
"To my wife and family, I want to say I love you all and that's it," he said."
Waterhouse was convicted in 1980 of murdering Deborah Kammerer of St. Petersburg, whose body was found in the tidal flats of Tampa Bay. She'd been beaten, raped and dragged into the bay, where she drowned.
Her sister, Linda Cope, was among those who witnessed the execution.
"I came here today hopefully to find closure and feel that justice has been done," a tearful Cope said afterward. "Maybe she will rest better now. She didn't deserve to die that way, nobody does. May God forgive me, because I can't forgive Robert Waterhouse."
Unable to identify Kammerer immediately, police turned to the public for help. Neighbors identified her body, and an anonymous tipster led police to Waterhouse. He had pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for killing a 77-year-old Long Island woman during a 1966 burglary. He was sentenced to life but was paroled after eight years.
A bartender had seen Kammerer 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.
Then-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.
Last week, the Florida Supreme Court had rejected arguments that Waterhouse should be spared because of testimony from a newly discovered witness and the destruction of physical evidence that made it impossible to perform DNA testing that could exonerate him. Justices concluded the new testimony was unreliable and wouldn't have been enough to acquit Waterhouse if he were to be retried.
Waterhouse visited for two hours Wednesday morning with his wife Fran, whom he married behind bars about 27 years ago. He also ate a final meal of two pork chop cutlets, two eggs sunny side up, two pieces of white toast, a slice of cherry pie, a pint of butter pecan ice cream, a pint of orange juice and a pint of milk. He declined to meet with a minister or spiritual adviser.
The curtain in the execution chamber opened at 8:08 p.m., with Waterhouse already strapped to a gurney with a white sheet pulled up to his chin. The execution phase began at 8:11. He closed his eyes and took a series of deep breaths, exhaling deeply. He yawned once. Seven minutes later, a doctor entered the room, examined him briefly and pronounced him dead.
Outside the prison Wednesday, more than 40 people protested the execution in a small, roped-off area across the street. Roman Catholic priest Father Phil Egitto of Daytona Beach brought more than half the group by bus.
"Violence begets violence. This is basically premeditated murder," Egitto said. "Killing is wrong."
The group sang songs and held up and hung signs, including some that said, "Murder is a sign. The death penalty is legal murder" and "We remember the victims but not with more killing" and "Though shalt not kill."
Only two people stood in a similar area for death penalty supporters, Jo Ellen Isbell, 49, and her fiancé, Jay Golding, 41. They drove two hours from Citrus County.
"I read a lot about him and I just wanted to support (Kammerer)," Isbell said, saying she also drove up for the execution of Oba Chandler in November, the only other time she's made the trip to Starke for an execution. "My heart breaks for the family and I am very much for what's happening."