Bruce Bartlett has put away scores of murderers in his 33 years as a prosecutor. Some were sentenced to death. But none has ever been scheduled for execution — until now.
Oba Chandler will be the first.
Bartlett and the prosecutors who helped put Chandler on death row plan to watch the 65-year-old triple murderer die Tuesday at Florida State Prison in Starke.
"I was kind of ambivalent about it," Bartlett said. "But the circumstances were particularly egregious. This guy wiped out a whole family and left a grieving father to live with this for the rest of his life.
"This guy is the poster child for the death penalty."
Bartlett, 57, is the chief assistant and No. 2 official at the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. He plans to go to Starke with two of the office's top prosecutors: Jim Hellickson, 67, who has spent 37 years with the agency; and Glenn Martin, 58, who has put in 27 years.
Together with retired prosecutors Doug Crow, 62, and Bob Lewis, 63, the team of lawyers helped convince a jury 17 years ago that Chandler was guilty of the deaths of three people visiting from Ohio — and then convinced them that Chandler should get the death penalty.
Joan "Jo" Rogers, 36, and daughters Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14, were found floating in the bay in 1989. They were bound, tied to concrete blocks and in a state of undress that suggested sexual assault. The investigation zeroed in on Chandler in 1992. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1994.
Bartlett said this is a part of the criminal justice system he's never experienced. He has a professional curiosity to see how it's done — and to see this particular sentence carried out.
"I don't take any pleasure in seeing someone take their last breath," Bartlett said. "But this particular individual, I don't have any reservations about.
"He has shown throughout this entire process that he has no remorse for the family. He hasn't provided any additional information about how this happened. It's been complete and total denial."
Hellickson was the prosecutor who argued to the jury that they should vote for the death penalty. He's still not sure he'll go. But if he does, this is why:
"I think it's more just to be there because the victims can't be there and to represent them and just see the case through on their behalf."
The Florida Department of Corrections has not released a list of witnesses for the execution. Family of the victims and law enforcement officials can attend. The family of the condemned cannot attend, but their religious advisers and attorneys can. Reporters will also be present.
Chandler's lawyer, Baya Harrison III, said he will attend the execution. Chandler has not asked for a spiritual adviser, according to the state.
Hal Rogers, the 59-year-old farmer whose his wife and three daughters Chandler murdered, told the St. Petersburg Times he's not planning to attend. Some of the investigators who worked the case 22 years ago told the Times they also don't plan to attend.
"A lot of people have asked me why," said retired St. Petersburg homicide detective Cindra "Cindy" Leedy, 58, now a courtroom bailiff. "They thought it would be closure for me. But I think it would be a letdown. Because he's just going to close his eyes and go to sleep.
"I think that's too good for him."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8472.