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Friday, November 8, 2013

Oba Chandler, American convicted murderer, died from lethal injection he was 65.

Oba Chandler was an American convicted murderer who was put to death by lethal injection for the June 1989 triple murders of Joan Rogers and her two daughters whose bodies were found in Tampa Bay, Florida. died from lethal injection he was 65. All three were discovered floating with their hands and feet bound, concrete blocks tied to their necks and duct tape over their mouths. Autopsies indicated the women had been thrown into the water one by one while still alive.

(October 11, 1946 – November 15, 2011) 

The case became high-profile in 1992 when police posted billboards with blowups of an unknown suspect's handwriting samples found on a pamphlet in the victims' car, leading to the identification of the killer when Chandler's neighbor recognized the writing. Billboards had not been used by police before, and became useful tools in later searches for missing people.
Prior to his arrest, Chandler worked as an aluminum building contractor. He testified in his own defense against the advice of his attorneys and admitted that he had met the Ohio women, giving them directions, but claimed he never saw them again aside from newspaper coverage and the billboards set up by investigators. Police originally theorized that there were two men involved in the murders of the Rogers women; however, this was discounted once Chandler was arrested. Following his conviction, Chandler was incarcerated at Union Correctional Institution, and during his 17 years of incarceration up to his execution was notable as not having had a single visitor, either from family or friends.
On October 10, 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant for Chandler. His execution was set for November 15, 2011, at 4:00 pm. Chandler was executed with a lethal injection and pronounced dead just after 4:25 pm. Chandler left a last statement to prison officials on a piece of paper which was read out in a news conference after the execution which stated, "You are killing an innocent man today".

Early life

Background

Chandler was born to Oba Chandler Sr. and Margaret Johnson and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, approximately 100 miles from where the Rogers family was living.[1] Chandler was the fourth of five children. When Chandler was only 10 years old, his father hanged himself in the basement of the family's apartment.[1] His father's death in June 1957 affected Chandler so much that he reportedly jumped into the open grave at the funeral as the gravediggers were covering the coffin with dirt.[2][1]
Chandler fathered eight children, reportedly by 7 different women, the youngest born in February 1989. Between May and September 1991, at the same time that Tampa police investigated the Rogers family triple murder, Chandler was an informant for the U.S. Customs Tampa office.[3][2]

Crimes and incidents

Chandler was stealing cars by age 14 and was arrested 20 times while he was a juvenile.[1] As an adult he was charged with a long list of crimes, including possession of counterfeit money, loitering and prowling, burglary, kidnapping and armed robbery.[4]
He was also accused of masturbating while peering inside a woman's window, and on another occasion of receiving 21 wigs stolen from a beauty parlor. In one incident, Chandler and an accomplice broke into the home of a Florida couple and held them at gunpoint while robbing them. Chandler told his accomplice to tie up the man with speaker wire and then took the woman into the bedroom, where he made her strip to her underwear, tied her up and rubbed the barrel of his revolver across her stomach.[2]

Murder victims

On May 26, 1989, Joan "Jo" Rogers, 36, and her daughters – Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14 – left their family dairy farm in Willshire, Ohio for a vacation in Florida. [5] They had never before left their home state. On June 1, authorities believe, the women became lost while looking for their hotel. They encountered Chandler, who gave them directions and offered to meet them again later to take them on a sunset cruise of Tampa Bay.[1] It is known that the Rogers women left Orlando that morning around 9 a.m.[6] and checked into the Days Inn on Route 60 at 12:30 p.m. Snapshots recovered from a camera left in their car showed the last picture of Michelle while she was alive, and even the sun setting on the same bay where their lives later ended.[7] They were last seen alive at the hotel restaurant around 7:30 p.m. It is believed they boarded Chandler's boat at the dock on the Courtney Campbell Causeway (part of Route 60) between 8:30 and 9:00 p.m., and that they were dead by 3 a.m. Chandler could also have used the fact that he was born in Ohio to lure them into feeling more connected with him.[8] It is also believed that he knew that the women were not from Florida, as he recognized the Ohio car plates since he himself was originally from Cincinnati.[9]

Sunshine Skyway over Tampa Bay where the first body was found on June 4, 1989
The women's bodies were found floating in Tampa Bay on June 4, 1989, with bound hands and feet, concrete blocks tied to their necks and duct tape over their mouths. The first body was found floating when a sailboat, on its way home to Tampa after a trip to Key West, had just crossed under the Sunshine Skyway when several people on board saw an object in the water. This was identified as a dead female.[10] The second body was floating to the north of where the first had been sighted. It was 2 miles off The Pier in St. Petersburg. While the Coast Guard went to recover the second body, a call came in of yet a third female, seen floating only a couple of hundred yards to the east. Like the first two victims found, this body was face down, bound, with a rope around the neck and naked below the waist.[11]
Autopsies indicated the three women had been thrown into the water while still alive.[12] This was bolstered by water found in their lungs and the fact that Michelle had freed one arm from her bonds before succumbing. Michelle was identified as the second victim found in Tampa Bay and recovered. The partially dressed bodies of all three women indicated that the underlying crime was sexual assault.[12] The blocks were tied around each of their necks to make sure they died from either suffocation or drowning, and to make sure the bodies were never found. However, the bodies ended up being found when they bloated due to decomposition and floated to the surface.[12]

Investigation

The women were not positively identified until a week after their bodies' discovery, by which time they had been reported missing back home in Ohio by the husband and father, Hal Rogers.[13] A housekeeper at the Days Inn noted on June 8 that nothing in the room had been disturbed, and that beds had not been slept in. She contacted the general manager, who then contacted the police.[12] Fingerprint matches to the bodies were made from those found in the room. Final confirmation of their identification came from dental records sent from the Rogers' dentist in Ohio. Marine researchers at Florida International University studied the currents and patterns, and confirmed that the women were tossed from a boat and not from a bridge or dry land, and that it had happened anywhere from two to five days before they were found. This was confirmed when the Rogers car, a 1984 Oldsmobile Calais with Ohio license plates, was found at the boat dock on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.[13]

Facts and arrest

The case remained unsolved and cold for over three years, partly due to the volume of tips pouring in to the police who investigated the crime.[14] Chandler was not arrested for the murders until September 24, 1992.[10] [14] His handwritten directions on a brochure found in the Rogers vehicle, along with a description of his boat written by Jo Rogers on the brochure, were the primary clues that led to his being named a suspect. Also, authorities had posted the handwriting from the brochure on billboards, which was historic as it was used for the first time in an attempt to find an unknown killer.[15] This led to a tip from a former neighbor who was able to provide a copy of a work order that Chandler had written.[16] A handwriting analysis conclusively matched the two.[14] Another neighbor, as well as one of the secretaries on the investigative task force, also thought that Chandler resembled the composite sketch of the suspect in a seemingly related rape case (see next paragraph). A palm print from the brochure was also matched to Chandler. Moreover, Chandler had sold his boat and left town with his family soon after the billboards appeared all over the Tampa Bay area.[17] In 1990, when the TV show Unsolved Mysteries was about to report on the deaths of the Rogers family, Chandler and his then-wife moved from their home on Dalton Avenue in Tampa to Port Orange near Daytona Beach. This is believed to be because Chandler felt more worried about being caught because of the upcoming television show about his crime.[14]

Second suspect

Investigators originally theorized that two men were involved in the murders of the Rogers women. This theory was reflected in a 1990 episode of the American crime television show Unsolved Mysteries, in which a reenactment of the crime depicted two men leaving the dock with the three women on board a boat.[18] This theory, however, was dismissed when Chandler was arrested. Other than a claim by a former prison cellmate that Chandler has said there was another man involved – whom the cellmate claimed to know the identity of but would not name – no evidence has ever surfaced regarding the involvement of anyone other than Chandler. The second-suspect theory is belied by Chandler's approach of two Canadian women – that he had the willingness to approach more than one potential target by himself.[19]
John Rogers, Hal Rogers' brother, was also seriously considered a suspect even though he was in state prison at the time. John Rogers, was in fact, serving a prison term for the rape of Hal's daughter Michelle.[10] Soon investigators established that John did not have the connections in prison to have done the murders via a hitman or friend. John Rogers was released from prison in 2004 and has had no further contact with his brother Hal since.[19]
While living in a trailer in Willshire, John had allegedly lured two teenage girls there and sexually abused them. Subsequent police investigation turned up evidence indicating that he had also done the same to Michelle. This caused a major rift in the family and may have played an indirect part in the eventual murders. The idea that he may have planned the crime was bolstered by the fact that his and Hal's parents had property near Tampa, and that he had visited the area a month before the murders. However, he was a general loner with little close ties to even his own family, let alone friends, so such a plan, if there were one, would have been beyond character for him. For this, and the simple reason that he did not know when his sister-in-law and nieces would be there, he was dismissed as a suspect.[19]
Hal Rogers was also considered a suspect because he had posted bail for his brother after he knew of his abuse of Michelle.[20] Hal Rogers said later that he had promised the family to make bail and would not go back on his promise. Investigators from Florida and Ohio also found out that Hal Rogers had withdrawn $7,000 from his bank at the time of the disappearance.[19] When questioned about it, he showed investigators a satchel with most of the money in it. He planned on using it to go and search for his wife and daughters himself before he was notified of their deaths. Also, subsequent investigation conclusively proved he had never left Ohio during that time period.[18] The rape and the hype around Michelle Rogers by people in the neighborhood and media was one of the reasons why the Florida trip was taken, so Michelle, her sister and her mother could get some distance from the incident.[20]

Trial

Chandler's testimony

At his trial in a Clearwater, Florida courtroom, Chandler admitted meeting the Rogers women and giving them directions, but claimed he never saw them again except in the newspaper and on billboards.[21] Yet he never came forward to tell authorities that he had seen the women.[22] He acknowledged he was on Tampa Bay that night – a fact he could not deny since the police had evidence of three ship-to-shore phone calls made from his boat to his home during the time frame of the murders – but claimed he was fishing alone. He explained that he returned home late because his engine would not start, which he attributed to a gas line leak he claimed to have found near dawn.[21] He claimed he had called the Coast Guard and Florida Marine Patrol, but they were busy elsewhere.[22] Finally, he claimed he flagged down a Coast Guard patrol boat, but they were busy and promised to send help. Then he claimed to have fixed the line with duct tape, which allowed him to make it back safely to shore.[23] His testimony was quickly refuted by the Pinellas County Prosecutor, Douglas Crow, who verbally sparred with Chandler to demonstrate that he had lied about everything.[24] All Chandler could muster in response to the prosecutor's repeated questions was, "I don't remember."[21]
This defense won him few sympathizers on a jury that quickly saw through his façade and the inconsistencies in his statements. Moreover, there were no records of distress calls from Chandler that night to either the Coast Guard or the Marine Patrol, nor were there any Coast Guard boats on the bay the following morning to help him.[10] A boat mechanic testified for the prosecution that Chandler's explanation for repairing the boat's alleged gas leak could not have happened as he had portrayed it. Chandler's boat, a Bayliner, had a distinctive engine in which the fuel lines were directed upward.[21] A leak would have sprayed fuel into the air, not into the boat, and the corrosive gasoline would have eaten away the adhesive properties of the duct tape Chandler claimed to use to repair the purported leak.[10]

Witnesses

Another lead was that on May 15, 1989—two weeks prior to the Rogers murders—Chandler lured Canadian tourist Judy Blair onto his boat in nearby Madeira Beach, raped her, then dropped her off back on land. Blair made her way back to her hotel room where her friend Barbara Mottram was waiting.[25] He was not charged or tried for this crime.[25] It is thought he did not murder her because Barbara refused his offer to join them on the boat, a decision which more than likely saved both their lives. As a result, Judy Blair testified during his trial for the murders to establish his pattern of attack and the similarities between the two crimes. Blair testified that on May 14, Chandler gave his name as Dave Posner or Posno when the three first met at a convenience store in Tampa.[25] Presumably he gave the same alias to the Rogers'. He told Blair and Mottram he was in the aluminum contracting business, which helped lead investigators to him, as well as the naming of the investigation to capture him: Operation Tin Man.[26] The description that Judy gave was also posted on the billboards along with the handwriting samples.[27]
Additionally, a former employee of Chandler's testified that Chandler bragged of dating three women that night on the bay, and that the next morning he arrived and delivered materials for a job by boat and immediately set out again – presumably to make sure his victims were dead and remained submerged. In an attempt to establish Chandler's whereabouts on the night of the murders, investigators found phone records of several radio marine telephone calls made from his boat to his home between 1 a.m. and 5 a.m. These likely were an attempt to explain to his wife his absence[28] as well as to provide himself with an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of the murders. Also, Chandler's own daughter Kristal May Sue testified against her father, saying that he talked about killing the three women and that he was afraid of going back to Tampa.[29] A maid who worked at the motel where the Rogers women stayed testified that she walked past Oba Chandler as she was going to the Rogers' room for room service on June 1, implying that it seemed as if Chandler had just left the women's hotel room at around 12:30 that afternoon. The maid said she didn't realize the importance of this sighting until Chandler's arrest in 1992, although the sighting has never been confirmed.[25]
Hal Rogers and Michelle's boyfriend also took the stand during trial.[29] Hal identified the women and talked about his emotions on June 1. The boyfriend told about a phone conversation with Michelle.[28]

Sentence and aftermath

Jo, Michelle and Christe Rogers were buried in their hometown on June 13, 1989, after a funeral service at the Zion Lutheran Church. About 300 people among them family and friends of the victims attended the service.[30][31] Because of the huge media interest for the case at the time, numerous police officers were present to keep all news media and crews out of the church during the funeral service.[31]
Chandler was tried and found guilty of the murders, and was sentenced to death on November 4, 1994.[32][33][34] After sentencing, the jury foreperson commented regarding the death sentence that, "They need to do this swiftly. The man is a mutation of a human being and he needs to be destroyed."
Chandler remained on Florida's Death Row, maintained his innocence, and continued to pursue legal appeals.[35] He admitted the Madeira Beach incident but claims the sex was consensual, and that the victim had changed her mind during the act – which, in his words, was not possible for him to do. Chandler was never prosecuted in the rape of Judy Blair, since he had already been sentenced to death for the Rogers family murders, and prosecutors did not want to subject Blair to the emotional trauma of a rape trial.[32] He continued to claim that he never met the Rogers women after that morning when he gave them directions.
Chandler served his sentence at Union Correctional Institution.[36] Shortly after the trial and conviction, his wife Debra Chandler filed for divorce, and the marriage was formally dissolved a year later. Chandler was no longer allowed to see his daughter Whitney, and in accordance with his ex-wife's wishes, he was not allowed to see current photos of Whitney.[37]
In July 2008, it was revealed that Chandler was on Florida's short list of executions.[38] Profiling experts believe that Chandler may have killed previously, based on the speculation that a first-time killer would not be experienced or bold enough to abduct and kill three women at once. Chandler remained a suspect in the 1982 murder of a woman found floating off Anna Maria Island,[39] this until 2011 when the body was identified as 29 year-old Amy Hurst, and her husband was arrested and charged with her murder.[40] And Chandler was never charged with other murders than those of the Rogers women. Chandler received an Institutional Adjustment disciplinary report on December 15, 2001, for disobeying orders in prison.[41] All of Chandler's appeals since his 1994 conviction were denied, the last one in May 2007.[42] After his conviction, Chandler was named by media as one of Florida's most notorious criminals.[43] Chandler said that his last words before his execution would be "Kiss my rosy red ass".[44]
In May 2011, comparison was drawn between the murder case and upcoming trial of Casey Anthony and Chandler's case and trial in 1994, as in both cases the heightened media attention forced the jurors to be selected from outside the county of the committed crime.[45] One of the jurors in Chandler's 1994 trial identified as Roseann Welton also commented in an interview that, "The people that he murdered did not have a choice of when they were going to die. He (Chandler) should have had the death penalty by now. He scared some of the jurors when he would sit there and stare at you and have that stupid grin on his face. He would make your skin crawl."[45]

Execution

On October 10, 2011, Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a death warrant for Chandler. His execution was set for November 15, 2011, at 4:00 pm.[46] The death warrant was signed the day before Chandler's 65th birthday. Chandler's lawyer, Baya Harrison, said that Chandler asked him not to file any frivolous appeals to keep him alive. "He is not putting a lot of pressure on me to go running around at the end to find some magic way out," said Harrison. "He is not going to make a scene. He's not going to bemoan the legal system. What he has told me is this: if there is some legal way that I can find to try to prevent him from being executed, he would like me to do what I reasonably can."[47] Harrison also said that Chandler suffered from high-blood pressure and coronary artery disease and had problems with his kidneys and with arthritis.[48]
On October 12, 2011, Harrison said that although he was preparing to file a motion regarding the violation of his client's Fifth and 14th Amendment rights in the case, he was unsure that Chandler was willing to make the trip to Clearwater for the court hearing or would even agree to the filing of the motion. "He hates coming down to Clearwater. He doesn't like the ride and he's not well," Harrison said. "He doesn't like to come out of his cell," added the attorney. "He doesn't like to be disturbed."[49]
On October 18, 2011, Harrison filed a motion against the execution on the grounds that the way Florida imposes the death penalty is unconstitutional.[50] According to the filed motion, a jury makes a recommendation on life or death, but Florida law gives the judge the final say.[50] A hearing on Chandler's motion was set for October 21 at 1:00 PM; Chandler did not attend the hearing in Clearwater, Florida.[50] On October 24 Chandler's appeal was rejected because he had already filed an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court prior to the decision.[51] This appeal was heard in a court in Tallahassee at 9:00 AM on November 9, 2011. The Florida Supreme Court had already upheld Oba Chandler's death sentence twice, once in 1997 and again in 2003.[51]
On November 15, Chandler had chosen a last meal consisting of two salami sandwiches on white bread, one peanut butter sandwich on white bread and iced tea.[52]
The execution process started at 4:08 p.m and at approximately 4:25 pm Chandler was pronounced dead after receiving a lethal injection at the Florida State Prison in Raiford, Florida.[53][54] Chandler declined to make a last statement before being executed.[55][56] Hal Rogers, the husband and father of the victims, attended the execution.[57] Former St. Petersburg homicide detective Cindra Leedy who investigated the case said in a press conference that "I'm glad there's finally an end to this. He doesn't deserve to live, he needs to die".[58]
Chandler did however leave a last statement to prison officials on a piece of paper which was read out in a news conference after the execution which stated, "You are killing an innocent man today".[59][60]
Shortly after signing Chandler's death warrant Governor Rick Scott commented on his decision. "He (Chandler) killed three women, so I looked through different cases, and it made sense to do that one. There's never one thing. It was the right case."[61]
Valerie Troxell, one of Oba Chandler's daughters, stated in an interview after the execution that, "I believe they did execute an innocent man. I don't think one person could have pulled off such a heinous crime. It would have to have been more than one person", Troxell stated.[59] "I believe the killers are still out there. The forensic evidence was not there. The palm print would prove he did meet them and gave them directions, but it didn't mean he killed them. I think the prosecution had a very weak case".[59] Troxell also revealed that she had sent a letter to Florida Governor Rick Scott asking him to commute Chandler's sentence to life in prison.[62] And Jeff Chandler one of Oba Chandler's sons stated that, "I truly believe he was tried and convicted by the media long before he went to trial,The media can pretty much convict you. I don't think he got a fair trial."[62]
Chandler was described as the "loneliest man in the loneliest place on earth, death row" after his execution, this as he had not had a single visitor during his years on Floridas death row unit.[62][56]

Media on the subject

The Discovery Channel devoted a one-hour episode concerning the murder of the Rogers family, "The Tin Man", on their series Scene of the Crime.[63] The case was also one of three in an episode of the Discovery series Forensic Detectives. The former focused on the underlying events of the crimes, while the latter focused on forensic evidence. In 1997, a series of articles entitled "Angels & Demons" written by Thomas French was published in the St. Petersburg Times newspaper.[64] The series told the story of the murders, the capture and conviction of Chandler and the impact of the crimes on the Rogers' family and community in Ohio, most notably their husband and father, Hal Rogers.
The articles won a 1998 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.[2] Death Cruise, by author Don Davis, also covered the case. The Rogers murders were featured in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries in 1990, where it was speculated that there were two attackers.[2] The book Bodies in the Bay, by Mason Ramsey, is a fictionalized adaptation (copyrighted in 1997, published in 2000).[2] The case was also featured in a 1999 episode of Cold Case Files on A&E entitled Bodies in the Bay, which also focused on the evidence, but did not delve too deeply into the background of the murders.[65] In 1995 Oba Chandler, some members of his family and also Hal Rogers appeared in a special episode of the Maury Povich Show featuring on the case. Chandler commented on the case via satellite link.[5] Chandler's case was also brought up in a full-hour episode of "Crime Stories".[65] The case was also shown on an episode of Forensic Files entitled "Water Logged" in December 2010. In 2012 Investigation Discovery show On the Case with Paula Zahn starring Paula Zahn aired two episodes called Murder at Sunset covering the case.[66]



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