JACKSONVILLE — Adella Marie Simmons, a 47-year-old mother of two, was raped, tortured and strangled 26 years ago after getting into a truck with two men when the car she was in broke down on Florida's Turnpike. Her nude body was found the next morning in a lifeguard stand 60 miles away.
Today, the man convicted of killing her, John Richard Marek, 47, is scheduled to be put to death at the Florida State Prison in Starke.
As his execution hour nears, Marek has appeals pending with the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming that the other man in the truck, Raymond Wigley, killed Simmons.
Marek's attorney, Martin McClain, has tracked down inmates who claimed that Wigley told them he was the killer. Courts, however, have repeatedly rejected his claims. Wigley, who had received a life sentence, was killed in prison in 2000.
Marek "deserves anything the country wants to give him," said Simmons' friend, Jean Trach, who was with her that night. "She had no choice. She died a horrible death. They burned her, raped her, beat her up and strangled her." Marek's would be the 68th Florida execution since the death penalty was reinstated in 1979.
He was last scheduled to die in May, but courts intervened. In a telephone interview then from her Miami home in May, Trach said she and Simmons were returning to Miami from a vacation in Clearwater on June 16, 1983, when her car stalled.
Marek and Wigley stopped their pickup truck and offered to help. While Marek talked to them, Trach said, Wigley stood off in the darkness.
"I had a very bad feeling. I didn't like this man," Trach said of Marek. "But I was terrified of the other man (Wigley) because he never moved."
The men offered to take one of them to the next toll booth, so they could call for help.
"She got in and they drove away. That was the last time I saw her alive," Trach said.
A police officer stopped Marek and Wigley about 3:30 a.m. as they walked away from a Dania Beach lifeguard stand. He later recounted that Marek seemed to be the dominant one. They then got into a pickup truck — later determined to be stolen — and drove away.
About 7 a.m., Simmons' body was found inside the tower. That evening, Wigley was arrested in Daytona Beach, driving the truck. Inside, agents found a gold watch, gold pendant and gold earring belonging to Simmons, and a gun. Marek was arrested at Daytona Shores.
Marek testified at his trial that after they picked up Simmons, he fell asleep. When he awoke, he said the woman was not in the truck. He testified Wigley told him he had dropped her off at a gas station. He testified he again fell asleep and when he woke up, he was on the beach.
Fingerprints at the lifeguard tower matched both Wigley and Marek, but only Marek's prints were found inside the observation deck, where the body was found.
Wigley testified that Simmons was forced to perform oral sex and repeatedly sexually assaulted.
Both men were convicted of Simmons' slaying, but only Marek got a death sentence.
Trach, now 76, said in May she had no intention of going to Starke to watch Marek die. Several calls to her home in August have not been returned.
"I don't want for him to take any more time from my life," she said. "I've been terrified of this man."