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Murders suspect nears release

Edward Humphrey, one of the suspects in the Gainesville student murders, could be free before prosecutors are ready to present evidence to a grand jury. Len Register, the top state prosecutor for the Gainesville area, said Wednesday that law enforcement officials may have to consider keeping Humphrey under surveillance if he is freed from state prison prior to grand jury action.

Register said it could be late summer or later before the student murder cases are ready for grand jury action.

Humphrey, who is in a state mental health prison on an unrelated battery charge, is scheduled to be released Sept. 27. But that date could be moved up to late August or earlier if Humphrey's good behavior continues.

Although investigators last week named Danny Harold Rolling of Shreveport, La., as the prime suspect in the killings, Register said evidence against Humphrey also will be presented to the grand jury.

"The two-perpetrator theory is still an extremely viable one," Register told the Gainesville Sun in a Tuesday interview.

But the thought of Humphrey walking the streets before a grand jury reviews the evidence does not sit well with investigators.

"To be honest with you, I don't think law enforcement would like to get into that position," said John Joyce, spokesman for the task force investigating the student murders. "In terms of cost and manpower, it could be difficult."

Register said there are more than 6,000 lead reports involved in the student murder cases that must be reviewed in preparing for what he expects would be a one-week "overview" presentation to the grand jury.

In addition, he said, there are still laboratory tests being conducted and some issues investigators would like to know more about.

"There are some unanswered questions," Register said. "There may be some questions we will always struggle with."

Register would not comment on difficulties involved in the case. Investigators previously have said that, other than DNA analysis of semen found at the three murder scenes, there was little evidence linking Rolling to the killings.

Earlier in the investigation, Humphrey was named as a suspect based on analysis of hair found at a murder scene and statements he made to investigators while in custody on an unrelated charge.

In August, just as the 1990-91 school year began, Sonja Larson, Christina Powell, Christa Hoyt, Manuel Taboada and Tracy Paules were found murdered in their Gainesville apartments. Three of the five victims were mutilated and their bodies posed in shocking positions.

Register said evidence against all suspects will be presented to the grand jury, which will be asked to determine if it suggests guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt," the standard required to prove guilt in a criminal trial.

State law allows a grand jury to indict on the lesser standard of "probable cause." Register said he would ask the grand jury to apply the more demanding "reasonable doubt" standard "because we want to be as certain as possible that when we enter court, we can be successful."

Register also said he doesn't expect prosecutors to make any deals with the named suspects to cajole their cooperation in the investigation.

"I wouldn't anticipate anything like that in this case," Register said Wednesday.

Humphrey is in the state mental health prison in Chattahoochee, west of Tallahassee. James Ivey, superintendent of that facility, said Wednesday that Humphrey is no longer in need of "intensive mental treatment" and soon will be transferred to a transitional care unit at the state's Reception and Medical Center in Lake Butler.

As the Gainesville murders move slowly toward grand jury action, Rolling is in the Marion County Jail awaiting sentencing on an armed robbery conviction.

Meanwhile, in Kansas City, police said Rolling was a suspect in several armed robberies and a burglary in that area two months before the killings.

Papers stolen in a burglary of a Roeland Park, Kan., home in June 1990 led Florida investigators to the area as they followed Rolling's tracks to Shreveport.

Detectives said Rolling also may have robbed a Westwood grocery twice in June 1990 and during one holdup told his victims, "Pray for me because I need it."

_ Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.