ST. PETERSBURG — Thirty-two years ago this month, Deborah Kammerer was found dead on the beach. She had been raped, brutally beaten and dragged to the surf, where she drowned in the morning high tide.
Police arrested Robert B. Waterhouse and a jury convicted him of murder. He was sentenced to death and at one point came within four days of an execution. But a judge's stay and years of legal wrangling kept Waterhouse alive.
On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott signed Waterhouse's death warrant and scheduled his execution for Feb. 15. If the sentence goes through, Waterhouse, 65, will be the second Pinellas killer put to death within a year. Oba Chandler was executed Nov. 15 for murdering an Ohio woman and her two daughters.
The announcement of Waterhouse's death warrant was welcome news for Bruce Bartlett, Pinellas-Pasco chief assistant state attorney. Bartlett helped secure a second death sentence for Waterhouse after the Florida Supreme Court tossed his original death sentence.
"He definitely ranks among some of the most notorious murderers that we had in Pinellas County during that time," Bartlett said. "I'm glad to see the governor moving forward with this."
If carried out, Waterhouse's execution will cap a long process of legal maneuvering and appeals, much of which focused on the mismanagement of forensic evidence.
It all began Jan. 2, 1980, when Waterhouse was seen leaving a St. Petersburg bar with Kammerer, according to witnesses. The 29-year-old woman was found dead the next morning, lying naked, face-down in the mud of Lassing Park Beach on the shore of Tampa Bay.
She had been raped, violated with a beer bottle and beaten so severely about the head it took police several days to identify her. A used tampon had also been shoved down her throat. Her killer dragged her to the beach alive and left her to drown in the morning surf.
All of those details were reason enough for a jury to recommend death, Bartlett said. But there was one other thing: Waterhouse had done it before.
He served eight years in prison in New York after he was convicted in 1966 of beating and sexually mutilating a 77-year-old Long Island woman.
"He is certainly a bad person," Bartlett said. "I think the jury felt there weren't many other options available to ensure the safety of the citizens."
Waterhouse's attorney could not be reached late Wednesday for comment.
Waterhouse's lengthy appeals have focused on a number of issues. In 2005, his attorney argued that blood evidence, which was mistakenly destroyed due to a clerical error in 1988, would prove Waterhouse's innocence if it were available for DNA testing.
Such advanced forensic technology was not available in 1980. But prosecutors were confident of Waterhouse's guilt based on the evidence they had. That included enzyme tests that showed blood spatter found inside Waterhouse's 1973 Plymouth matched that of Kammerer's blood type.
Investigators also found hairs similar to Kammerer's inside the car and fibers found on the body matched one of the car's seat covers. A witness testified that he noticed scratches on Waterhouse's face the day after the murder.
Waterhouse denied committing the murder, but told detectives that he had tried to have sex with a woman the same night. He said he became frustrated because she had her menstrual period.
In an interview with the Times five years after his conviction, Waterhouse claimed someone stole his Plymouth and killed Kammerer, but he somehow got the car back.
He came close to being executed in 1985 when Gov. Bob Graham signed a death warrant, but a judge ordered a stay four days before he was to be put to death.
In 1988, the Supreme Court decided that jurors should have heard testimony about Waterhouse's alcohol abuse and emotional problems before recommending death. His sentence was tossed.
A new penalty phase in 1990 sent him back to death row, where he has been ever since.
Of the 395 people on Florida's death row, only 18 have been there longer than Waterhouse, according to Florida Department of Corrections records. If the execution goes forward, Waterhouse will be the longest serving death row inmate to have been put to death
This is the third death warrant that Scott has signed since becoming governor in January 2011.
Times news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at [email protected]