STARKE — A man who steadfastly maintained his innocence in connection with a murder that occurred nearly 26 years ago was put to death by lethal injection Wednesday night.
A warden declared Wayne Tompkins, 51, dead at 6:32 p.m., eight minutes after his execution began.
Tompkins was convicted of strangling his girlfriend's daughter and burying her body beneath their Tampa home. Prosecutors said he tried to force himself on 15-year-old Lisa DeCarr and killed her when she resisted his sexual advances. No physical evidence tied him to the crime.
His execution was the third to go smoothly since the state adopted new protocols following a botched one in 2006. That incident halted the death penalty from being carried out in Florida for more than a year.
Lisa's mother, three sisters and brother sat in the front row to watch Tompkins die. More than two dozen witnesses attended.
The curtain to the execution chamber rose at 6:23 p.m., revealing Tompkins covered up to his neck with a white sheet and strapped to a gurney. By then, he had eaten a last meal of fried chicken and banana split ice cream and taken a sedative. He also visited with his mother for three hours Wednesday morning; she was not allowed to attend the execution.
He blinked his eyes and licked his lips. A warden asked if he wanted to make a final statement. "I'm good," Tompkins mumbled.
One of Lisa's sisters turned away as the execution began. Another, Michelle Hayes, said she prayed silently, "Thank God it's going to happen."
On the grounds of the Florida State Prison afterward, Hayes said this somber moment had taken too long to arrive.
Lisa DeCarr's mother reported her missing to police in March 1983, believing she might have run away. But with a psychic's help in June 1984, authorities unearthed skeletal remains wrapped in a pink bathrobe from about a foot of dirt below the porch of the southeast Seminole Heights home where Lisa, Tompkins and her mother had lived.
The robe's sash had been used to strangle the victim, the medical examiner said. It was still tied around the neck bones.
Lisa's mother said she had last seen her daughter in the robe, and that Tompkins, by then her ex-boyfriend, had been alone at the home with her that day.
He was already in jail when police charged him with murder, accused of abducting and raping at knifepoint two convenience store clerks in Pasco County. He pleaded guilty to the rapes.
Tompkins spent 23 years on death row for Lisa's murder. Three governors have signed his death warrants. Each time, his attorneys found some way to delay his execution.
They questioned state witnesses' testimony. They argued that one of the witnesses, a jailhouse snitch, embellished his testimony at the urging of the prosecutor. They lamented that jurors never heard important mitigating factors, including Tompkins' childhood abuse and addiction to alcohol and drugs.
They were even unconvinced that the bones pulled from the shallow grave belonged to Lisa, who, they argued, had been seen alive after the day prosecutors said she died.
On Tuesday, the Innocence Project of Florida urged the governor to grant a stay of execution once again so that further DNA tests could be conducted. The first round of testing occurred only recently and the results were inconclusive.
Though the Florida Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that there was no merit to Tompkins' final appeals and refused to halt the execution, Innocence Project leaders said they would seek to have the evidence preserved for testing even if he was executed.
The U.S. Supreme Court also denied an appeal and stay of execution filed Wednesday.
Lisa's family spoke of their frustration and pain as they waited for the courts to resolve all the appeals. Hayes said the journey from her sister's death to Tompkins' execution had seemed like a never-ending nightmare.
"It felt like we had no control over any part of it," she said.
Tompkins' death had been carried out in a humane way, she said. Some of her family members, she admitted, thought he got a more peaceful end than he deserved.
As she spoke, her brother, Harold DeCarr, held a framed picture of Lisa, forever frozen in time as a pretty brunette teenager.
Hayes said her dead sister might now have peace. But for the family, she said, there would be none. "We can't get her back," Hayes said.
Reach Colleen Jenkins at (813) 226-3337 or email@example.com.