For the third time, the Florida Supreme Court has tossed out the conviction of serial killer Bobby Joe Long for the 1984 murder of 18-year-old Virginia Johnson in Pasco County.
There won't be a fourth trial. This time, the Supreme Court directed the trial judge to acquit Long of the crime.
"We're thrilled. It's a big win for us," said former public defender Laurie Chane, one of two attorneys who represented Long at the third trial.
However, Thursday's ruling is an achievement without consequence for Long. He is awaiting execution for the murder of a Hillsborough woman; he was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murders of eight other women.
"It doesn't affect Long," Chane said. "He isn't going anywhere. He is going to stay probably exactly where he's at, at Florida State Prison in Starke."
Long, one of Florida's more notorious serial killers, once boasted in front of a television news camera that he "probably destroyed about a hundred people." Long preyed on prostitutes in the Tampa Bay area.
Nine of Long's victims were killed in Tampa.
The skeletal remains of Ms. Johnson's body were found on Nov. 6, 1984, in a pasture in Pasco County, near the Hillsborough County line.
Jurors at Long's first trial for Ms. Johnson's murder watched a CBS videotape in which Long said killing "was like A, B, C, D."
"I pull over. They get in. I drive a little ways. Stop. Pull a knife, a gun, whatever. Tie them up. Take them out. And that would be it."
The jury found Long guilty of strangling Ms. Johnson, a verdict overturned by the state Supreme Court. The court threw out Long's confession.
At the penalty phase of Long's second trial for Ms. Johnson's murder, prosecutors mentioned the plea agreement with Hillsborough authorities that resolved the nine murder cases in Tampa. But the Hillsborough killings shouldn't have been cited, the state Supreme Court ruled in tossing out the second trial's guilty verdict.
Those two decisions whittled the state's case significantly, according to former public defender William K. Eble Sr., who represented Long in two of the three Pasco trials. "All (the evidence) that was left was (carpet) fiber and hair," Eble said.
That evidence "certainly raises a very strong suspicion that Long killed the victim," the court ruled, "(but) we find that it is insufficient to establish beyond a reasonable doubt that he did so."
"I'm glad the case is over," said Eble. "I'm glad no more tax dollars will be spent on this trial."