TAMPA — Seventy members of a jury pool were asked Monday if they had ever heard of the diminutive gray-haired man looking genially at them from the defense table.
Only 13 of the prospective jurors recognized Oscar Ray Bolin Jr., 50, the convicted serial killer and rapist who has haunted the Hillsborough County Courthouse for two decades.
The mother of 25-year-old Natalie Blanche Holley said she isn't surprised few remember how her daughter was fatally stabbed eight times in 1986 or that Bolin is on death row for killing two other young women.
"It was a long time ago," said the victim's mother, also named Natalie, "and this is Florida."
Three previous convictions and two death sentences for Holley's murder did not survive appeals. Bolin has been brought back from death row for a fourth attempt at a Holley conviction that sticks. It's no longer a death penalty case. The charge is second-degree murder.
It's not unusual to prosecute death row inmates for other crimes that don't carry the death penalty. Reasons include the unpredictable outcome of many death penalty cases, the heinous nature of the offenses and the desire for justice on behalf of the victims' families.
Although Bolin has developed diabetes on death row, he looked fit and groomed Monday. He has physically outlasted Holley's mother, who sat through his previous trials, as did mothers of Bolin's other two victims. Holley's mother is now ailing and uses a wheelchair, unable to attend trial No. 4.
She had always hoped for the death penalty.
In the back of the courtroom, Bolin's wife, Rosalie, who left her prominent lawyer-husband to marry Bolin after working on his rape and murder cases, says she also waits for justice. She has doubts she ever should have married him but still believes he never hurt anyone.
Rosalie met Bolin while working on his case as a mitigation specialist for the public defender's office. The mother of four divorced to marry the convicted killer, her in a lace wedding dress, him on speaker phone behind bars saying "I do" on national TV. That was 17 years ago.
She helped defend him through the trials for the murder of Holley. She also helped defend him through convictions for the 1986 murder of Teri Lynn Matthews, 26, and convictions for the 1986 murder of 17-year-old Stephanie Collins.
Monday, she helped scrutinize prospective jurors.
The marriage never accomplished what she had hoped, she said. It was meant to be a statement of "great personal sacrifice" that would bring attention to what she thought was a terrible injustice.
It was never about infatuation, never about an attraction. "People thought the wrong thing."
Her subsequent work as a death penalty opponent, as a respected mitigation specialist who was recruited by the Casey Anthony defense team, she said, all have been overshadowed by "that one personal decision."
She will always be Mrs. Oscar Ray Bolin. She wouldn't say she shouldn't have married him. But if she had a do-over, she said, "Let's just say I'd tweak it."
Bolin's current three defense attorneys are working pro bono. There's no estimate on what all the prosecutions have cost, but Rosalie Bolin says it has to be in the millions.
His first conviction for Holley's murder was in 1991. He got the death penalty. It was overturned. He was reconvicted in 1999, and he got the death penalty again. That was overturned, too. Then in 2005, a jury found him guilty of second-degree murder. He was given a life sentence. But an appellate court criticized the judge's jury instructions, putting Bolin back in court this week before Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Battles. The trial is expected to be finished by the end of the week.
Rosalie Bolin said she can't envision her husband ever being executed. She can envision him one day going free. So far, he has beaten the odds.
"It's not Oscar's fault he's here a fourth time."
Natalie Blanche Holley's mother said she no longer hopes for justice: "We haven't gotten it for 25 years."
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]