Editor’s note: This story ran on Nov. 16, 2011, the day after Oba Chandler was executed.
STARKE — The man who raped and killed a mother and her two daughters in one unfathomable night of horror 22 years ago closed his eyes and died in his sleep on Tuesday.
Oba Chandler was executed by lethal injection at 4:25 p.m. for the 1989 murder of Joan Rogers and daughters Michelle and Christe. The Ohio family was visiting Florida when they were found floating in the bay, bound, tied to concrete blocks and stripped below the waist.
Hal Rogers, the father and husband they left behind, sat directly across from their killer in the witness room, separated by glass.
When the bodies of the three women were found, their mouths were taped shut but not their eyes. Their killer wanted them to watch, according to the FBI profile, so he could enjoy their terror.
Chandler's eyes were closed when the brown curtain to the death chamber rose. He was strapped onto a gurney, intravenous tubes leading into his arms. His eyes opened when he was asked if he had anything to say.
"No," Chandler said. Then, at the age of 65, he closed his eyes for good.
An hour after his death, state officials revealed Chandler wasn't telling the truth. He had left behind a final statement.
"You are killing a innocent man today," Chandler had written on lined paper by 9 a.m.
"Bull----," said Pinellas-Pasco Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett, who helped prosecute Chandler and witnessed his death. "A jury of 12 didn't seem to think so."
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Joan “Jo” Rogers, 36, and teenagers Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14, were last seen alive on June 1, 1989. They were found in Tampa Bay three days later.
It took three years to crack the case. First their murders were linked to the rape of a 24-year-old Canadian woman two weeks before. A friendly local invited her onto his boat, then raped her. The Rogers family must have been similarly charmed, police believe.
Tampa resident Jo Ann Steffey realized that the sketch of the rape suspect matched her neighbor, Chandler. Later, his neighbors realized that handwritten directions given to the Rogers family also matched Chandler's handwriting.
But the task force investigating the murders was flooded with tips. It took more than a year before they focused on Chandler.
At his 1994 trial, the jury heard that five ship-to-shore calls were made from his boat, Gypsy 1, in the bay hours after the Rogers family was last seen. Jurors also heard that Chandler bragged of his crimes. The Canadian victim explained how Chandler charmed, then attacked her.
Chandler testified that he was innocent, that his boat had broken down that night. But a boat mechanic punctured his story.
It took the jury 90 minutes to convict Chandler and 30 minutes to recommend the death penalty. Retired Pinellas-Pasco Chief Judge Susan Schaeffer handed out that sentence on Nov. 4, 1994.
"Oba Chandler was probably the vilest, most evil defendant I ever handled," she said recently.
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Chandler's last meal was two salami sandwiches on white bread with mustard. He also asked for a peanut butter and grape jelly sandwich on white bread but ate only half of it. He ordered an iced tea, but drank coffee instead.
Chandler requested no spiritual adviser and had no visitors. He never had a visitor in his 17 years in prison. No one in his family had even filled out the paperwork to come visit him.
The curtain rose at 4:07 p.m. Chandler, eyes closed, fidgeted a bit while the anesthetic was administered. By 4:10 p.m. his mouth hung open, as if he were asleep.
At 4:14 p.m., a prison official signaled for the next drugs to be administered. One paralyzed Chandler. The other stopped his heart.
Defense attorney Baya Harrison III said that 17 years in prison had already killed his client. The lawyer, who witnessed the execution, said Chandler had advanced coronary artery disease, high blood pressure and failing kidneys.
“He told me he was simply tired of living in that small cell under those conditions for all those years,” Harrison said. “He just didn’t want to live anymore.”