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Florida wants to execute Robert Joseph Long. His real name is Bobby Joe Long. Does it matter?

Convicted serial killer Robert Joe Long, left, speaks to his attorney William K. Eble before being sentenced to death for a Pasco County murder in 1989. He is set to be executed on May 23. [Times files]
Convicted serial killer Robert Joe Long, left, speaks to his attorney William K. Eble before being sentenced to death for a Pasco County murder in 1989. He is set to be executed on May 23. [Times files]
Published May 1, 2019

TAMPA — Last week, the governor ordered the state to kill a man named "Robert Joseph Long."

The name appeared just like that, eight times, in a death warrant signed April 24 authorizing the state to execute Long for a 1984 Hillsborough County murder. A letter that accompanied the warrant referred to him as "Robert Joe Long." So did the original sentencing paperwork.

Here's the problem: That's not his legal name.

The man the state wants to execute is Bobby Joe Long. That's what's written on a West Virginia birth record, and other documents which predate the notorious serial killer's reign of terror through the Tampa Bay area in the 1980s.

Yet, more than three decades since he was first sentenced to die, state officials have used variations of his name such as Robert J. Long, Bob Long, Bobby Jo Long and others.

His attorney, Robert Norgard, thinks the oversight makes the recent death warrant "defective." He filed a written request Monday, asking a Hillsborough circuit judge to throw it out.

"If the state is to carry out the harshest of punishments, it must do so correctly," Norgard wrote.

"Mr. Long deserves the dignity and respect of hearing his name correctly read in the moments before this state extinguishes his life."

THE DEATH WARRANT: DeSantis orders execution for Bobby Joe Long, who killed at least eight women in the 1980s

THE VICTIMS: Tampa serial killer Bobby Joe Long's death warrant was just signed. We remember the victims.

The attorney said the least the state can do is amend the death warrant to reflect his client's actual name. He provided copies of several documents, including printouts from Ancestry.com showing a birth record from 1953 and a divorce record from 1980, both of which carry the name "Bobby Joe Long." There is also military paperwork that shows Army Private 2nd Class Bobby Joe Long received an honorable discharge on Aug. 23, 1974, at Homestead Air Force Base.

Long himself tried to correct the error in a handwritten court document he filed in 1993 while he awaited retrial for a Pasco County murder.

"Defendant's name is not Robert, but Bobby," he wrote 26 years ago. "Defendant has attempted to point this error out several times, to courts and attorneys, only to be ignored."

Evidently, they kept ignoring him. The Department of Corrections still lists him as "Long, Robert J" in its online database of death row inmates.

Attorneys for the state called Long's request "frivolous" and questioned why it was only being brought up now, with his execution imminent.

In the most recent court filing, Long's attorney quoted the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, who said that "a man's name is a principle component of his personality, perhaps even a portion of his soul."

"Mr. Long," Norgard wrote, "despite his death sentence, is entitled to have his name, the essence of his soul, correctly read and correctly represented on the document that authorizes the end of his life."

A judge has yet to rule on the name issue. It is one of a number of last-minute challenges his attorney has raised as the scheduled May 23 execution date looms. Other challenges center on the state's lethal injection protocol, which other death row appeals have argued may cause unnecessary pain and violate the U.S. Constitution's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

A court hearing is scheduled to take place Wednesday morning.

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com. Follow @TimesDan.