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The relatives of one of his victims from the '70s want to make sure he doesn't leave alive.
Published Feb. 4, 2008

Every five years, Robert LaPlante and his daughter, Simone King, make the long trip from New Port Richey to Tallahassee to appear before the Florida Parole Commission.

They want to make sure Henry Thomas Ashley dies behind bars. In New Port Richey, almost 38 years ago, Ashley killed LaPlante's 19-year old son Richard and four other people.

A judge sentenced Ashley, now 64, to die in the electric chair. But that sentence was reduced to life in prison in 1972 after the U.S. Supreme Court tossed out the death penalty.

"They told me if I could come to every hearing, he would leave prison in a pine box,'' King said as she and her father left the hearing room Wednesday.

LaPlante, former manager of Beall's Department Store at Southgate Shopping Center, said his wife never got over the news of their son's death and died shortly thereafter. He urged the commission to reject parole for Ashley.

Ashley was not present for the hearing. He is currently at Polk Correctional Institution in Polk City. He asked for parole so he could move to Virginia and live with his fiancee. He recently got his high school diploma and says he is sorry for the murders. He told parole officials he does not want to die in prison. Parole officials say Ashley told them he should have stayed home with his sister in St. Petersburg the night of the murders.

"After (all these) years he's sorry for what he did.'' Ms. King said. "He ruined so many lives, I don't believe he should get any reduction in his sentence.''

Parole commissioners agreed and turned down a recommendation from Parole Examiner Lori A. Pille that would have chopped 12 months off of Ashley's expected parole date. He is now scheduled to be paroled in April 2067, a date he is unlikely to live to see. By law, his case will be reviewed again in five years.

Ashley murdered four of his victims at Dorn's Hideaway, a bar and restaurant near New Port Richey that closed after the shootings. LaPlante was robbed and killed on Green Key Road after Ashley and his companion, Lawrence Osteen, picked him up hitchhiking on U.S. 19. Ashley's family said he had about $20 when he left home to visit a friend. Police said the motive for all five murders was robbery.

Osteen was the state's key witness against Ashley. He is currently serving a life sentence for a murder in an unrelated case that occurred several years after the New Port Richey murders. He was not prosecuted in the Ashley case.

Those who died at Dorn's included Andrew and Mildred Dorn, owners of the bar and restaurant and Phillip and Ethel Vaiana. The two couples were alone in the bar at closing time in the early morning hours of October 4, 1970. Mrs. Vaiana was a waitress at the restaurant.

Ashley later told a St Petersburg Times reporter he killed the two couples at Dorn's because one of the men laughed at him. Ashley and Osteen had been drinking and driving around the New Port Richey area on the night of the murders.