1. Archive

Man to die for 1980 Belleair slaying

He stabbed a man 41 times, authorities said. The judge calls it a "heinous, atrocious and cruel murder."

Paul John Fitzpatrick blamed his best friend for the 20-year-old murder of Belleair resident and art teacher Gerald Hollinger.

Fitzpatrick's accusation didn't stick with the jury, which convicted him of first-degree murder for the 1980 robbery and killing.

Wednesday, a judge decided Fitzpatrick should pay for the crime with his life.

Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Lauren Laughlin sentenced the 42-year-old Massachusetts man to death for the stabbing death of Hollinger, a murder case that saw no progress until Fitzpatrick's 1996 arrest.

Detailing some of the 41 stab wounds that killed Fitzpatrick, Laughlin said the crime was cruel and deserving of Florida's highest penalty.

"The bruise on Hollinger's neck is indicative that the defendant held the victim from behind and severed his jugular vein," the judge said. "Although the victim bled to death within a few minutes, the number of defensive wounds that he suffered establishes that he was conscious of the violent attack . . . and was resisting.

"The state has proved that Gerald Hollinger was the victim of a heinous, atrocious and cruel murder that is defined as a consciousless or pitiless and unnecessarily torturous to the victim."

After a brief hearing, the judge concluded with the traditional words given the condemned: "May God have mercy on your soul."

The judge followed the recommendation of a jury, which voted 8-4 for death in February after convicting Fitzpatrick of first-degree murder.

Fitzpatrick, who did not speak during the hearing, showed no visible emotion. Later, his attorneys said he was calm and relieved to have finally been sentenced.

"He was actually quite relieved to have it resolved," said Assistant Public Defender Kandice Friesen. "He's been in the county jail a long time and wants and end to this, though this isn't really the end."

Now comes what is expected to be years of appeals for Fitzpatrick, who was an unemployed painter when he was arrested in the Boston area.

A mail carrier found Hollinger's body in the kitchen of his Belleair home on Feb. 8, 1980. He had been stabbed to death with a butcher knife from his kitchen.

Investigators found fingerprints and footprints in both Hollinger's home and his Cadillac, which Fitzpatrick stole after the killing and later abandoned on the Courtney Campbell Parkway.

They also found a receipt from a Tampa hotel and a registration card with a fake driver's license number that yielded more fingerprints.

But after an initial investigation, detectives were stymied. No progress was made until 1995, when Pinellas sheriff's detective Mike Ring picked it up again on a fluke.

Police in Jacksonville had arrested someone for robbing gay men and then stealing their cars. A link to Hollinger's killing was suspected. Ring reopened the case, but a connection to the Jacksonville cases didn't materialize.

But Ring, a former police officer from Massachusetts, recognized that the fake license number from the hotel looked like a Social Security number for someone from Massachusetts. So Ring shipped the fingerprints to Massachusetts state police, where a match was made to Fitzpatrick.

Eight days before the Belleair murder, Fitzpatrick and a friend had used a knife to assault a gay man in Massachusetts and steal his car. Fitzpatrick was convicted of the crime and served 2{ years in prison for it.

Fitzpatrick and his friend fled to Florida, partying and stealing cars to get around Tampa Bay. At some point, police said, Fitzpatrick met Hollinger, who was gay, and attacked him in his Belleair home.

His friend denied he killed Hollinger, telling investigators Fitzpatrick told him, "I slit a guy's throat."

Defense lawyers had argued against death, asking the judge for leniency because Fitzpatrick was an abused child who grew up in a crime-riddled Boston neighborhood. They also cited testimony by a psychologist who said Fitzpatrick may have brain damage from either a blow to the head or sniffing gasoline fumes.