LARGO — A dozen years after Rosemary Christensen disappeared from her Belleair condo, and three years after her body was finally found buried in sand beside the Suwannee River, a jury on Saturday convicted her killer.
Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Philip J. Federico thanked jurors for reaching "exactly the verdict that the evidence reflected in this case."
After finding Temple guilty of first-degree murder, the jurors took seats in the courtroom and watched Federico sentence Temple to life in prison with no possibility of parole. And after that, some of them hugged Christensen's sons, Oliver and Radnick van Vollenhoven, who testified in the trial.
"Although this doesn't bring her back, we are very relieved that justice has finally been served in our mother's case," the sons said in a joint statement.
But Temple, who chose to act as his own attorney, and repeatedly fumbled over legal procedures, reacted angrily to his fate.
"You know you convicted the wrong man," Temple told the judge. "You can laugh now, but I'll be back on appeal, and I'll win the next time because next time you won't pull all this dirty tricks s---, and I will get all the evidence in that I want."
And next time, Temple continued, "I won't have some corrupt … judge like you."
Federico calmly responded: "Good for you, Mr. Temple."
The verdict puts an end to what once was one of Pinellas County's highest-profile murder mysteries, which Pinellas County sheriff's detectives worked for years.
It also ends one of the stranger trials in Pinellas County in recent memory. Because Temple represented himself, he got the chance to cross-examine the former lover who testified against him. He also called himself as a witness.
But Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett told jurors that Temple was a liar who changed stories like a chameleon changes colors, who "spent a lifetime preying on the weak." After the verdict, he said he thought jurors heard for themselves that "the guy can't tell the same story twice."
Jury foreman Derek Weaver and fellow juror Charlotte Cline both said they didn't find Temple believable and that everyone considered him guilty. The only question was between first-degree or second-degree murder.
Temple's decision to testify in his own defense opened him to withering cross-examination from Assistant State Attorney William Loughery, who asked him to admit "you were totally lying to police about what really happened to Rosemary."
Back in 1999, Temple told authorities his wife simply disappeared, possibly with "swingers." But during trial, even he admitted Christensen already was buried by then.
"I misinformed them," Temple admitted Saturday.
"You misinformed them?" Loughery asked incredulously. "You can't even admit that was a lie?"
Temple claimed to have seen a psychologist in Decatur, Ill., just after the killing, and explained his story of what happened. But when asked for the name of the psychologist who could presumably corroborate his story, Temple said, "I'm not going to tell you."
Temple did admit to fibbing earlier this month — in a prison pen pal ad, describing himself as "semiretired" and "61 but still muscular … fit, trim and still active." Temple is in fact 61, but also has a variety of ailments, appears frail and gets around in a wheelchair.
Delivering his own closing argument, Temple said, "I did not kill my wife." He said he thought jurors would not be so "unintelligent" as to believe the state's claims against him, and the testimony of Lesley L. Stewart, his former girlfriend.
Stewart said that in 1999, she went to Temple's condo where she saw Christensen on the floor in a pool of blood. Temple told her she died in a struggle after sneaking up behind him with a knife, she said. She said he then convinced her to help bury the body by saying police would suspect her and send her to prison. She stayed with Temple for nine years, and had a daughter with him, before contacting an attorney and authorities in 2008.
Temple claimed prosecutors promised her immunity from prosecution. But prosecutors said they had an informal agreement not to charge her with a crime as long as she testified truthfully and had not actually participated in the killing.
Temple's version of the death — to the jury — was that Stewart went to the condo while Christensen was there alone, that they got into a struggle with a knife, and that Christensen was stabbed accidentally.
But juror Cline said the most frustrating thing about the weeklong trial was "listening to the stories that he kept going on and on about, and how many times the story changed."
As to Christensen, she said, "I felt for her children. I'm a mother also. I can't imagine somebody doing that to me."
Pinellas sheriff's Detective Michael Bailey said that with such a "problematic and defiant defendant" it was "a really rewarding ending to a case."
Curtis Krueger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8232.