A grand jury indicted Edwin "Mike" Kaprat III on a fifth murder charge Monday, in the death of 84-year-old William Whitney three months after a beating fractured his skull in August.
Kaprat, 29, already is charged with raping and killing four elderly women in Hernando County in August and September. Authorities in New Jersey and Tampa, meanwhile, are investigating whether he is responsible for two earlier slayings there.
Whitney was the only male victim during a seven-week time of terror in West Hernando. Detectives say Kaprat entered the Whitney home on Cobblestone Drive in Spring Hill on Aug. 17 because he thought Whitney's wife, Alice, lived alone.
Whitney died of pneumonia Nov. 19. But, according to Chief Assistant Attorney Ric Ridgway, the beating undoubtedly caused Whitney's death.
"In Mr. Whitney's case, the mechanism (of his death) was the pneumonia; the result is the same. He died as a direct result of the head injuries. That was the opinion of both the pathologists in Mississippi and Dr. (Janet) Pillow in Leesburg," said Ridgway, who is supervising the case.
Whitney's son, William Whitney Jr. of Gulfport, Miss., agreed.
"My only comment is that (the charge) is justifiable as far as I'm concerned. He (his father) certainly was in good health before the attack."
Dr. Paul McGarry performed the autopsy in Mississippi, where the Whitneys' son moved the couple after the attack. Mrs. Whitney, who was 83 when she and her husband were beaten, was not as badly injured. She suffers from Alzheimer's disease, and has been of little help to investigators.
According to McGarry's report, Whitney died of a kind of pneumonia directly caused by inactivity: hypostatic pneumonia. His report said it was caused by the coma he lapsed into after the attack.
The finding apparently convinced the grand jury, which handed up the indictment after spending about an hour listening to the evidence and deliberating.
Kaprat previously had been charged with the attempted murder of Whitney, along with the attempted murder of Mrs. Whitney, burglary and arson.
Grand jury proceedings are not public, and neither Ridgway nor Assistant State Attorney Don Scaglione, who presented the case to jurors, would comment on the evidence the state has against Kaprat.
Sheriff's Office officials said Kaprat had confessed to the beating soon after his arrest Oct. 9.
Investigators' reports that have been made public do not show any physical evidence linking Kaprat to the crime.
Though the medical reports on Whitney said that a weapon caused the fractures in the rear of his skull and above his nose, no weapon has been found.
"We haven't identified it. We haven't recovered it. And he wouldn't tell us what it was," said sheriff's Major G. Z. Smith.
Kaprat's attorney, Assistant Public Defender Alan Fanter, has hinted that the confessions may not hold up in court. Fanter said he would have a better idea of any weaknesses in the confessions after he takes a sworn statement from the detectives who interviewed Kaprat.
The strength of the case against Kaprat in Whitney's death may ultimately be irrelevant. Ridgway said he probably would not prosecute all of the cases. Other cases have more physical evidence against Kaprat, he said, including fingerprints and hair samples.
"With five cases, obviously at some point we would have to consider whether it is necessary to try all of them, but we are nowhere near making that decision," Ridgway said.
The Whitneys' beating came 10 days after Sophia Garrity, 80, was found dead in her burned-down house in Spring Hill, and the day before Ruth Goldsmith, 72, was found in her charred home in Brookridge.
As for the cases outside Hernando, Ed Kane, chief of the Mount Olive Township Police Department in New Jersey, thinks Kaprat might have killed Billy Shimanski in 1992. Shimanski, a friend of Kaprat's, was beaten to death, perhaps during a time when Kaprat had briefly returned to the area.
Kaprat is also a suspect in the killing of Lee Anthony Bugay III in Tampa in February 1991. The Hillsborough state attorney's office said Monday there was nothing new to report on that case.
Kane said his detectives plan to come to Hernando County. Among other things, they hope to interview Kaprat.
"There was a meeting about it last week at the prosecutor's office. We're still developing leads up here," Kane said. "I would suspect they'll be down in two or three weeks."