Advertisement

Life or death? 18 years later, a new jury reconsiders Hillsborough murder sentence

William Deparvine was convicted and sentenced to death for the 2003 murders of Richard and Karla Van Dusen. The first jury was not unanimous on the death penalty.
William Deparvine listens during jury selection in his death penalty resentencing trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday. Deparvine was sentenced to death in 2006 after a non-unanimous jury vote. Florida law has since changed to require that a jury be unanimous if they are to recommend the death penalty. The state  assembled a new jury in a bid to try to convince 12 people that Deparvine deserves the death penalty.
William Deparvine listens during jury selection in his death penalty resentencing trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday. Deparvine was sentenced to death in 2006 after a non-unanimous jury vote. Florida law has since changed to require that a jury be unanimous if they are to recommend the death penalty. The state assembled a new jury in a bid to try to convince 12 people that Deparvine deserves the death penalty. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Mar. 28, 2022|Updated Mar. 28, 2022

TAMPA — A jury assembled in a Tampa courtroom Monday morning to consider the case of a man they were told had already been found guilty.

Their only job: to decide how he should die.

Seventeen years ago, a different panel voted 8-to-4 in favor of the death penalty after finding William Deparvine guilty of the 2003 murders of Richard and Karla Van Dusen.

Back then, the majority vote was enough for a death sentence. Florida law has since changed to require unanimity.

On Monday, state prosecutors asked the new panel to recommend a new death sentence. The defense argued there are reasons to favor a life in prison.

Deparvine, a month shy of turning 70, sat quietly through four days of jury selection last week and opening statements Monday morning. Hard of hearing, he wore earphones to listen to the proceedings. He used a laptop computer to communicate with his attorneys by instant message.

Pale and bespectacled, he has spent most of the last two decades confined to a single-man cell at Union Correctional Institution, near Raiford, home of Florida’s death row.

“His release is not an issue,” Assistant Public Defender Jamie Kane told the jury. “Regardless of your decision in this case, Mr. Deparvine is going to die in prison. That reality is just as certain and just as final as the verdict in this case.”

Assistant Public Defender Jamie Kane questions potential jurors during the death penalty resentencing of William Deparvine at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday.
Assistant Public Defender Jamie Kane questions potential jurors during the death penalty resentencing of William Deparvine at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

In opening statements, the jury heard the details of what Deparvine did.

Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies found the Van Dusens on Nov. 26, 2003, lying face-down on an isolated dirt road off Old Memorial Highway near Oldsmar. They had both been shot in the head. Karla Van Dusen had also been stabbed twice in the chest.

Richard and Karla Van Dusen in an undated photo.
Richard and Karla Van Dusen in an undated photo. [ Times | (2005) ]

The couple, who lived in Tierra Verde, had been in the process of selling a red 1971 Chevrolet Cheyenne. Richard Van Dusen listed it for sale in the St. Petersburg Times earlier that year. He wanted $13,700 for it.

Deparvine, who lived in St. Petersburg, wanted to buy it. He drew up a bill of sale.

On Nov. 25, Karla Van Dusen phoned her mother, mentioning that she was driving behind her husband and a man who was interested in buying the truck. The couple was found dead the next day.

Read inspiring stories about ordinary lives

Read inspiring stories about ordinary lives

Subscribe to our free How They Lived newsletter

You’ll get a remembrance of Tampa Bay residents we’ve lost, including heartwarming and amusing details about their lives, every Tuesday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

Investigators would find the couple’s Jeep Cherokee abandoned at a business not far from the crime scene. They would find the vintage Chevrolet pickup at the complex where Deparvine lived.

“This wasn’t done because this defendant was angry or disliked the Van Dusens,” said Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty. “This was done solely to steal their truck.”

Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty questions potential jurors during the death penalty resentencing of William Deparvine at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday.
Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty questions potential jurors during the death penalty resentencing of William Deparvine at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

Doherty said Deparvine tried to frame someone else, leaving a stolen driver’s license belonging to a man who lived in his apartment complex near the couple’s abandoned Jeep. Investigators identified Deparvine’s DNA inside the Jeep.

Although his guilt is not in question, prosecutors spent much of Monday morning rehashing the evidence of the crime. Retired Hillsborough detectives described the crime scene and the investigation that led to Deparvine.

The jury heard that Deparvine had previously spent time in prison for an arson conviction. In the late 1980s, he had a dispute over rent payments with a tenant at a property he managed. He decided to resolve it by surrounding her home with gasoline late at night and setting it ablaze.

Assistant Public Defender Jamie Kane told the panel about the man Deparvine was before he became a convicted murderer.

Deparvine was born in Detroit. He attended public schools and graduated in 1978 from Wayne State University. He married his high school sweetheart and had a son and three daughters. He worked construction, raised a family while attending law school.

The jury will hear from his daughters, Kane said. The defense would offer such details not to excuse what Deparvine did, but because they illuminate the qualities he has exhibited throughout his life.

“You have very, very limited reasons for death,” he said. “But you have infinite reasons for life. And that’s the way it should be.”

William Deparvine listens to jury selection in his death penalty resentencing trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday.
William Deparvine listens to jury selection in his death penalty resentencing trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa on Thursday. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]

Florida previously was one of the only states that allowed juries to recommend death sentences if they were less than unanimous. A bare majority of 7-5 was all that was required.

That changed in 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death penalty law. The law was subsequently rewritten to require unanimity.

The change opened up the possibility of new sentences for some, like Deparvine, who had non-unanimous juries. With some resentenced to life in prison, the state’s death row population, which totaled more than 400 prisoners in 2016, has decreased to 313.

If Deparvine is resentenced to death, it is unlikely he would be executed anytime soon. A new death sentence would restart an appeals process that typically lasts a decade or more. If all appeals were exhausted, it would be up to Florida’s governor to sign a death warrant.

Florida has executed 99 people since 1979. Those executed within the last decade spent an average of about 24 years on death row, according to data from the Department of Corrections.

The state has conducted no executions since 2019.