Jury urges life term for killer

Published March 13, 1993|Updated Oct. 9, 2005

In a matter of hours Friday, two pictures emerged of Luther "Luke" Basse.

One was of a devoted father, God-fearing Christian athlete and courageous firefighter willing to risk his life for others. The other was a killer with delusions of grandeur who was proud that he tried to kill his former wife and killed her husband.

Basse himself, in a taped confession, told jurors that he wanted to kill Anita Yunk and failed, and that Keith Yunk's death was simply a "casualty of war." In the tape he also said he would rather die than spend one day in prison.

"It's not suicide. It's justice," the jury heard him say. "I made my bed and I'll die in it."

But the jury, after determining Basse's guilt within an hour, recommended Friday that life in prison was the appropriate sentence _ not the death penalty.

Circuit Judge Susan F. Schaeffer said she plans to formally sentence Basse to life in prison next Friday.

After the conviction, Schaeffer allowed Basse some time with his family and fiancee. He embraced them and sobbed.

His former wife was not there for the penalty phase, but cried with relief upon hearing the conviction. "I don't see how this could possibly ever not affect her," said her brother, the Rev. David Rawley. "Every time she closes her eyes, this will play out in front of her."

The morning of Dec. 15, 1991, Anita Yunk awoke at 3 o'clock, to a man in a ski mask wielding an ax and a knife. She was slashed in the neck with the knife and hit in the head with the ax. Her husband, Keith, awoke and tried to fight the intruder. He was stabbed 14 times _ with the knife and the ax _ and died within minutes.

In the courtroom Friday, prosecutor Richard Sheinis donned the glove and ski mask Basse wore that night and held the ax in the air so jurors could see what Mrs. Yunk saw that night. Then he pulled off the mask and looked at Basse.

"Luther Basse, we have unmasked you in front of God, country and this jury to be held accountable for what you've done," he said.

Assistant Public Defenders Nora McClure and Ron Eide argued that Basse should be convicted of the lesser crime of second-degree murder because he had not planned to kill Yunk. They also argued that in Basse's mind _ no matter how wrong _ he thought he was justified in killing Mrs. Yunk because he considered her a bad mother and terrible housekeeper.

He was obsessed with getting custody of his children and did not trust the courts to grant it, so he did the only thing he thought he could, they said.

"His tragic flaw was his obsession with the care and welfare of his children," Eide said. "A flaw _ perhaps viewed as an admirable flaw."

Basse _ the valedictorian of his parent's Christian high school _ came to Florida in 1979 to try out for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but didn't make the team. He met Anita in church, married her, adopted her son and had three more children. He moved to Boise, Idaho, to become a firefighter and they divorced. Then he traveled from Idaho in disguise and under an assumed name to kill his former wife.

McClure argued that a life sentence would be a hard punishment for Basse, who probably will never see his children again.

Sheinis and prosecutor Joe Patner argued that Basse wasn't thinking of his kids when he tried to murder their mother.

"When they woke up and found Mommy all bloody _ what a lovely childhood memory that would be," Sheinis said, "something the children could carry with them forever."