Tuesday, June 19, 2018
News Roundup

Jury finds Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. guilty of murdering Natalie Holley

TAMPA — No one celebrated the quick murder verdict for Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. Thursday, or the life sentence he got.

"He'll be back," said Kathleen Reeves, 74, the mother of one of Bolin's three victims slain a quarter-century ago, who has seen him prevail in appeals for two decades. "He'll appeal it. He's like a bad penny."

Six jurors needed just an hour and 50 minutes to decide that Bolin fatally stabbed 25-year-old Natalie Blanche Holley in January 1986. It took them only another few minutes on their retrieved smartphones to discover that Bolin, 50, had already been convicted three times for Holley's murder — each conviction overturned on appeal.

They also learned he is on death row for the 1986 murders of two other women — Teri Lynn Matthews, 26, and Stephanie Collins, 17, after numerous other appeals.

Prosecutors had been barred from revealing his criminal history.

"Everyone was shocked to find out afterward," said jury foreman Jeremy Stewart. He said the jurors did their jobs the right way, weighing evidence in the Holley case "in a vacuum" as the judge instructed them.

Outside the courtroom, alternate juror Tasha Vazquez listened with wide eyes as Reeves, the mother of victim Teri Lynn Matthews, told her about Bolin's murder of her daughter and his multiple retrials since the early 1990s.

"I'm in complete shock that this has been allowed to go on," Vazquez said.

The evidence she and the other jurors heard this week was that Bolin stabbed Natalie Blanche Holley, the assistant night manager at a Church's Chicken restaurant on Fowler Avenue, 10 times in an abandoned orange grove in the early hours of Jan. 25, 1986.

A motive was never established. Jurors heard taped testimony by his now-deceased ex-wife that he came home at 2 a.m. with blood on his sneakers and a woman's purse.

She described how Bolin got rid of the sneakers and the purse and wiped down both the victim's car and his own. But Bolin had left one major clue at the crime scene: A strand of his hair that was found clutched in Holley's hand. DNA from the hair strand matched.

Despite that, the case bounced back three times on appeal due mostly to errors, not a lack of evidence. The last time, the judge was criticized for improper jury instructions.

Before jurors deliberated today, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Emmett Battles gave them extensive instructions on the legal definitions of second-degree murder and the possible lesser charge of manslaughter.

Reeves, who has attended all 10 trials for Bolin, said Thursday's verdict was the fastest. Another jury had once deliberated two hours.

Bolin showed no reaction to the verdict. Win or lose, he was to return to death row. Defense attorney Bjorn Brunvand told the judge that he had represented Bolin pro bono, but could no longer do that. Someone else, he said, would have to handle an appeal.

Prosecutor Halkitis said this won't be his last meeting with Bolin in court. He has other hearings on at least one of his death cases.

"There's no closure," said co-prosecutor Chris Jensen. "In this case, you never know."

Reeves said she would ask Gov. Rick Scott to put Bolin's execution on the "fast track."

Natalie Blanche Holley's mother, also named Natalie, got news of the conviction by telephone. She uses a wheelchair and couldn't attend the trial. She said she didn't believe it was over, either.

"We've been done this road before, haven't we?"

Somehow Bolin has always found a way back to court.

"But I don't know what he's gained."

Thursday afternoon, Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee said he wanted Bolin back on death row by midnight. Said spokesman Larry McKinnon, "The sheriff doesn't want him in Hillsborough County any longer than necessary."

Researcher John Martin contributed to this story. John Barry can be reached at (813) 226-3383 or [email protected]

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