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Published Apr. 29, 2013

Circuit Judge Pat Siracusa had a couple of legally valid reasons to sentence Derral Wayne Hodgkins to death for choking and fatally stabbing Teresa Lodge.

Hodgkins was on lifetime probation when he went to Lodge's apartment in 2006 and murdered the 46-year-old diner cook. Just two years earlier, he finished serving nearly 17 years for the kidnapping and rape of a 12-year-old Hillsborough girl, whose head he backed over with his car before leaving her for dead.

Under Florida law, Siracusa said, the probation and previous violent crime were both reason enough for Hodgkins to die. But a third circumstance, which the judge gave "great weight," was the heinous nature of Lodge's death.

She remained conscious as she died.

"Teresa Lodge lived long enough in the defendant's grasp after the blows to the head to realize she was being murdered," Siracusa wrote in his 10-page order.

The judge said those factors outweighed defense testimony that Hodgkins was brain damaged, that his stepfather abused him or that family members loved him.

And so, on Friday morning, in a small, quiet courtroom with only bailiffs and court employees, Siracusa ordered Hodgkins to be executed "in the manner prescribed by law."

Hodgkins showed no emotion. No family members attended the hearing for Lodge, who had known Hodgkins years earlier and had exchanged letters with him while he was in prison.

Sometime on Sept. 27, 2006, Hodgkins went to Lodge's lakefront apartment.

Prosecutors say he got into a struggle with Lodge and strangled her. As she lay unconscious on her bedroom floor, he stabbed her seven times in the chest.

More than a year passed before he was arrested. That's when tests found Hodgkins' DNA in scrapings taken from under Lodge's fingernails.

Prosecutors said it got there as Lodge clawed and scratched.

The case went to court in January 2011 but ended in a mistrial after a state's witness mentioned Hodgkins' rape conviction.

Seven months later, a new jury convicted Hodgkins of first-degree murder By a 7-5 vote, jurors recommended the death penalty.

Then the hearings stretched out as attorneys argued his fate. In October, Hodgkins' attorneys made a last-ditch attempt to keep their client off death row by arguing that he suffered from brain abnormalities.

Two psychologists testified that parts of Hodgkins' brain were smaller than normal, and he had poor impulse control.

Prosecutors pointed to state files in which Hodgkins denied any type of mental health problem in 1985, as well as a 1988 screening in which he denied any hospitalization for mental illness. When he was put in solitary confinement, he didn't deteriorate emotionally, records showed.

Prosecutors also noted Hodgkins managed to control himself for the two years he was out of prison, before killing Lodge.