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Crane climber Carl Roland goes on trial in 2005 slaying of girlfriend

Carl Edward Roland climbed atop a 25-story construction crane in Atlanta while wanted in connection with a Pinellas County murder. He stayed on the crane and on national news for days.

But for Jennifer L. Gonzalez's family, the pain has been much more private and much longer-lasting than Roland's bizarre days in the spotlight in 2005.

Her mother, Cindy LeVan, said the pain of losing her 36-year-old daughter is "indescribable. You just sit back and hope nobody else will ever have to go through this."

Gonzalez was a friendly, artistic, fun-loving person, she said, and "her children meant the world to her. She was full of life and it was taken far too soon."

Roland's goes on trial this week on a first-degree murder charge, four years after Gonzalez's death. LeVan and other family members plan to attend.

Gonzalez, who grew up in Pinellas Park, was a mother of two girls, ages 4 and 14 at the time of her death. She taught preschool and worked at Target.

She and Roland dated on and off for four years. He was 41 then, working as a computer software salesman.

On the Sunday before her death, Roland told a couple he knew that Gonzalez had been cheating on him. He asked if they knew how he could get a gun so he could kill her, according to court records.

On the following Tuesday, sheriff's investigators say Roland went to Gonzalez' Oldsmar apartment and strangled her. Her body was found in a nearby retention pond.

Roland's trial was stalled in 2006 when a judge declared him mentally incompetent, and unable to stand trial. He was transferred to a state mental health facility.

In cases like this, defendants who make progress in treatment and can understand the nature of the charges against them can later be declared mentally competent. Roland is now considered mentally fit for trial.

But for Gonzalez' family, the delay prolonged the pain.

"We cannot help but wonder what state of mind Jennifer was in as she was fighting for her life," family members wrote in a letter to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Timothy Peters.

"We know what state of mind our entire family has been in since losing Jennifer. Until the matter now facing the court is moved forward and justice is served, the anxiety and depression that our family has felt every day, will continue to be felt every day."

Jury selection is scheduled to begin this morning.

Crane climber Carl Roland goes on trial in 2005 slaying of girlfriend 02/09/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, February 11, 2009 8:42am]
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