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Death row's sole woman fights for life

Virginia Larzelere, the only woman on Florida's death row, continues to proclaim her innocence in the 1991 slaying of her husband Norman, who was gunned down by a masked man.

"I was not a decent daughter, sister, mother or wife; however, I am not guilty of taking Norm's life," Larzelere, 50, said in a letter to the Associated Press.

Norman Larzelere, an Edgewater dentist, was Virginia's fourth husband. They were together five years before he was murdered March 8, 1991.

Successful appeals and two executions have emptied the state's death row of women, except for Larzelere.

She is in a tiny cell at Lowell Correctional Institution south of Gainesville, waiting for Volusia Circuit Judge John W. Watson III to rule on her latest appeal.

She claims the charges listed in her indictment and arrest warrant differed from those described to the jury that convicted her of murder in 1992. She also claims her trial lawyer was ineffective, said David Hendry, an attorney with the Capital Collateral Regional Counsel who now represents her.

Larzelere was convicted of first-degree murder on Feb. 24, 1992. Her son, Jason, who was accused of being the triggerman, was acquitted by a jury the following Sept. 21.

"I did not aid, abet or procure Jason or any unknown person to kill Norman," she said.

Hendry called the murder "unsolved."

He said he believes he's made a good case for ordering a new trial. Watson could also grant a new sentencing hearing or deny her appeals.

At the time of the trial, Larzelere's attorney, Jack Wilkins, was having financial problems and eventually ran afoul of the federal government. "He went to prison and she went to death row," Hendry said.

The Florida Supreme Court, in a unanimous ruling on March 29, 1996, turned down Larzelere's initial appeal, rejecting an argument that sentencing her to death was too stiff a punishment compared with the treatment of others in the case: her son's acquittal, and the granting of immunity to two other suspected conspirators in exchange for their testimony against her.

"We find that the evidence establishes beyond question that (Larzelere) was the dominating force behind this murder and that she was far more culpable than the state's two key witnesses," the justices wrote.

Larzelere was once one of five women on death row.

In the past year, Aileen Wuornos, a serial killer convicted in the deaths of six men along the roads of Central Florida, was executed after firing her attorneys and dropping all her appeals.

Ana Cardona, 40, on death row for killing her toddler in the "Baby Lollipops" case, was granted a new trial by the Florida Supreme Court last July.

Deidre Hunt, originally sentenced to death for killing a man in a videotaped slaying in Daytona Beach, was sentenced to life in prison after getting a new trial in 1995.

Judy Buenoano, 54, was executed on March 30, 1998, for poisoning her husband.

Larzelere has attracted a group of supporters and even has a "Help Virginia" Web site. A friend, Jan Thomas, of Union, N.H., keeps Larzelere informed about the case. She said Larzelere has severe health problems, including heart and lung disease and asthma.

"Ginny and I have been writing letters to one another for 6{ years now, and she and I have become "sisters of the heart,' " Thomas wrote in a letter to the Associated Press.