Jury: Life, not death, for Hillsborough double murderer

A jury rejected a new death sentence for William Deparvine, who was convicted in 2005 or the murder of Richard and Karla Van Dusen.
William Deparvine listens to his death penalty resentencing trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa. Deparvine was sentenced to death years ago by a non-unanimous jury. Florida law has since changed to require that a jury be unanimous if they are to recommend the death penalty.
William Deparvine listens to his death penalty resentencing trial at the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa. Deparvine was sentenced to death years ago by a non-unanimous jury. Florida law has since changed to require that a jury be unanimous if they are to recommend the death penalty. [ ARIELLE BADER | Special to the Times ]
Published Apr. 4, 2022|Updated Apr. 4, 2022

TAMPA — William Deparvine, who 18 years ago killed two people for their pickup truck, should spend the rest of his life in prison, a jury decided Monday, reversing an earlier decision to send him to death row.

After an unusual re-sentencing trial that played out over portions of three weeks, the panel of five men and seven women deliberated a little over three hours before rejecting a new death sentence for the convicted double murderer.

While the jury found that Deparvine’s crimes were aggravating enough to merit capital punishment, they fell short of the required unanimity to recommend the death penalty.

Hillsborough Circuit Judge Michelle Sisco immediately imposed two new sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Deparvine, who turns 70 this month, will not return to death row, where he has spent the last 16 years, but will instead join Florida’s general prison population.

He showed no reaction as the jury’s decision was read. In the courtroom gallery, his two adult daughters wept.

A different jury found him guilty in 2005 for the murders of Richard and Karla Van Dusen. They voted 8-to-4 in favor of the death penalty. At the time, Florida law allowed a death sentence based on a recommendation of a bare majority of a 12-person panel. That changed in 2016, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Florida’s death penalty law, which was subsequently rewritten to require unanimity.

Six years later, Deparvine returned to a Tampa courtroom to face a new jury. Their only job was to decide if he should be executed.

“I know what I’m asking you to do,” Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty said in closing arguments. “It’s going to be hard. It’s a difficult decision and it’s meant to be. We are asking you to impose the severest penalty allowed by law.”

The state said he murdered the Tierra Verde couple so that he could steal the vintage pickup truck they were trying to sell. They argued that the case included several aggravating circumstances that qualified death as an appropriate punishment. They included that the crime was committed for financial gain and that the murders were cold, calculated and premeditated.

“Mr. Deparvine is going to die in prison,” Assistant Public Defender Jamie Kane told the jury. “He is never going to get out, except in a pine box. That is a guarantee. The state wants to decide what day that happens. That’s it. They’re asking you to bless their request to put Mr. Deparvine to death when they want.”

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

Prosecutors spent the better portion of two days last week reintroducing the evidence that clinched Deparvine’s 2005 conviction. Retired sheriff’s deputies shared memories of the scene they found one morning in November 2003 along a wooded, isolated dirt road off Old Memorial Highway in northwest Hillsborough County. It was there that they found the bodies of the husband and wife. Both had been shot in their heads. Karla Van Dusen had also been stabbed in her chest.

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

Richard Van Dusen had been trying to sell his 1971 Chevrolet pickup truck, a vehicle he had worked to restore. Deparvine had expressed interest in buying it. A bill of sale bore his name.

Karla Van Dusen had spoken with her mother the day before the couple was found dead. She told her that she was driving behind her husband and a man who was interested in buying the truck. The couple’s Jeep Cherokee was found abandoned at a business about a mile from the crime scene. Blood marked the front seats. Investigators would find Deparvine’s DNA in the Jeep.

An identification card belonging to a man who lived near Deparvine lay near the Jeep. The state argued that he planted it there to try to frame him for the crime

Investigators found the truck parked at the complex where Deparvine lived.

The case’s age presented some unique challenges. With some witnesses from the first trial no longer alive, lawyers had to rely on transcripts of their earlier testimony, with words read back into the court record as though it were fresh.

Although some aspects of the case have changed with age, the effects of the murders and their aftermath remained ever-vivid.

Letters from the couple’s family members memorialized a father attending school functions and organizing family picnics, who loved working on cars and competing in car competitions, and a mother who played piano and sang in a church choir and performed as a clown for hospital patients.

“Nothing can truly put into words the impact my mother’s death had on my life,” Karla Van Dusen’s son, James Myers, told the jury. “When she was taken from me ... my entire soul was crushed beyond repair.”

But the jury also heard about the man at the defense table. What emerged was a portrait of a doting father, a bookish scholar with a law degree. There were snapshots of Deparvine donning a cap and gown for his law school graduation, and standing shirtless in swim trunks at the beach with his family. There were also portraits of him in prison garb, standing before block walls with family.

Aubrey Land, a corrections consultant and former officer and investigator for Florida’s prison system, said Deparvine’s educational background would make him well-suited to help other prisoners as a law library clerk. He also noted Deparvine lacks a history of serious disciplinary violations in prison.

His two adult daughters, Kelly and Tina, remembered goodnight hugs in the basement study where their dad immersed himself in books. He was the “cool dad” who played kickball with the kids, and made sure no one was left out. Since his incarceration, Deparvine has remained a part of their lives.

They said they loved their father.

On the witness stand, they were each asked what they would do if their father was sentenced to life in prison.

“I would still continue to have a connection,” his daughter, Kelly, said through tears. “There still is a relationship there. I still benefit from having a dad.”