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Serial killer's appeal is rejected

Danny Rolling lost his first death sentence appeal Thursday, three years and one month after he pleaded guilty to the August 1990 serial murders of five Gainesville students.

Florida Supreme Court justices upheld the death sentences Thursday. Rolling faces the electric chair for killing four women and a man in student housing areas around the University of Florida over a four-day period that sent shock waves through the state.

"It provides closure to know his appeal has been denied," Ann Garren, mother of victim Christa Hoyt, said Thursday from Gainesville.

Three victims were raped, one was beheaded, and police said the killer had bound and gagged some of his victims and described how he planned to torture them.

"Death is the appropriate sentence for each of these brutal murders and is not disproportionate given the facts and circumstances of this case," the state Supreme Court concluded in an unsigned ruling.

Rolling, 42, pleaded guilty to the murders of Christa Hoyt, Sonja Larson, Christina Powell, Tracy Paules and Manuel Taboada on the day his trial began in February 1994. He appealed his death sentences a few months later.

A career criminal and the son of a retired Shreveport, La., police officer, Rolling broke into the apartment of Larson and Powell on Aug. 24, 1990. After stabbing Larson to death, Rolling sexually abused Powell and stabbed her to death. Rolling arranged the bodies in the apartment, posing them in positions apparently intended to shock whoever discovered them.

Two days later, Rolling sexually abused and killed Hoyt. A day later, Rolling broke into the apartment of Paules and Taboada. After stabbing Taboada to death, Rolling stalked, raped and killed Paules.

In Rolling's appeal, lawyers argued his death sentences should be overturned because the terror that gripped Gainesville after the killings made it impossible for a jury recommending his punishment to be impartial.

Nancy Daniels, the public defender handling Rolling's case, said she will ask for the state Supreme Court to reconsider its decision. Rolling's attorneys then have three months to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the state Supreme Court's decision.

_ Information from Reuters was used in this report.