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‘Today you are killing an innocent man’

November 16, 2011

Oba Chandler

    STARKE, Fla. (AP) — A man who was convicted of the 1989 killings of an Ohio woman and her two teenage daughters in Florida as they returned from a dream vacation to Disney World was executed Tuesday.
    Oba Chandler, 65, was given a lethal injection and pronounced dead at 4:25 p.m. Tuesday at the Florida State Prison, Gov. Rick Scott’s office said. The execution began at 4:08 p.m. and concluded without any problems.
    Prison officials later released what they said was a final statement from Chandler, who had only said ‘‘No’’ when asked if he had any last words to speak as he awaited execution.
    ‘‘Today you are killing a innocent man,’’ the note read.
    There were 21 witnesses, plus 11 members of the media in attendance. Hal Rogers, the husband and father of the victims, watched calmly from the front row. Neither Rogers nor any of the other witnesses spoke during the execution.
    Mandi Scarlett, a niece of victim Joan Rogers, spoke briefly after the execution.
    ‘‘Now is the time for peace,’’ she said.
    Chandler was convicted in 1994 of killing 36-year-old Joan Rogers and her daughters, Christe and Michelle, who were 14 and 17, and dumping their bound bodies in Tampa bay. The three were on their first vacation and making their way home to their small farming community of Willshire, Ohio, after their Florida trip.
    Authorities concluded that the women met Chandler on June 1, 1989, when they stopped and asked him for directions to their Tampa area motel. Chandler, who had ties to Ohio, apparently sweet-talked the women into going on his boat, police said.
    Once aboard, Chandler bound the victims’ arms and legs, tied concrete blocks to ropes around their necks and then threw them overboard, according to detectives. Despite the concrete blocks, the bodies surfaced and were found days later, naked from the waist down.
    Detectives didn’t crack the case for three years. Two things helped make the arrest: a tourist brochure with Chandler’s handwriting was found in Rogers’ car, and Chandler looked similar to a composite sketch of a suspect wanted in an earlier unsolved assault against a Canadian woman who was raped aboard a boat in Tampa Bay.
    Authorities took the unusual step of publicizing the handwriting on the tourist brochure, putting it on a billboard to see if anyone recognized it, under the words: ‘‘WHO KILLED THE ROGERS FAMILY?’’ One of Chandler’s former neighbors recognized the writing and called authorities.
    At Chandler’s trial, prosecutors used details of the unrelated rape for which he was never tried. That Canadian woman testified Chandler took her by boat to see the sunset out on the bay and raped her. She said she believed the reason she wasn’t killed was because a friend was waiting for her at the dock. Based on the similarities of the cases, prosecutors hypothesized that Rogers and her daughters were lured onto his boat with the promise of seeing the sunset and were then sexually assaulted before being murdered.
    Chandler took the stand at trial and acknowledged to giving Rogers directions, but denied that he had anything to do with the killings.
    Scott signed Chandler’s death warrant on Oct. 11, the second he has signed since taking office as governor. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed a lower court decision to proceed with the lethal injection.
    Since his conviction in 1994, Chandler had not received any friends or visitors.
    For his last meal Tuesday, Chandler ate two salami sandwiches on white bread, half of a peanut butter sandwich and had coffee. ‘‘He’s cooperative and doing what the officers tell him,’’ Florida State Prison spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said.
    Chandler’s lawyer, Baya Harrison, said that some members of Chandler’s family had wanted to see him. But years ago, Chandler became angry with his family and took all of them off his visitation list, the lawyer said.  According to state prison rules, once the death warrant was signed, Chandler couldn’t add family back to his visitation list — the lawyer said.
    ‘‘He’s had problems with his family over the years,’’ said Harrison, adding Chandler would have liked to have seen some of his relatives.
    About three dozen protesters — bused in from Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Daytona — protested less than a half mile from the prison gates against the death penalty. They held up signs with such phrases as ‘‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’’ and ‘‘We Remember the Victims But Not With More Killing.’’
    About 50 yards away, four protesters in favor of the death penalty stood by. Florida Highway Patrol officers stood watch between the two groups.
    Associated Press writer Brent Kallestad contributed to this report from Starke.

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