Sunday, April 29, 2007

Man's execution unlikely 20 years after rampage

Man's execution unlikely 20 years after rampage

By John A. Torres
The Associated Press
Posted April 29 2007
PALM BAY � Two decades ago, William Byran Cruse killed six and wounded 14 during a shooting rampage in Palm Bay. Two years later, he was sentenced to death.

However, officials say it's unlikely he will be executed before his natural life ends. Cruse will turn 80 this year and is the oldest person on Florida's Death Row. Despite an insanity defense at trial, it wasn't until five years ago that the courts declared him incompetent, which stalled his execution.
"You can see he's a madman," said State Attorney Norman Wolfinger, who prosecuted Cruse in 1989. "Whether or not he will ever be competent to be executed is questionable."

That angers some, who think Cruse has lived too long since his murderous rampage April 23, 1987.

"Don't have a death penalty if you're not going to use it," said Satellite Beach resident Ronald Grogan Sr., whose son was one of two Palm Bay police officers killed by Cruse.

Adding to the possibility that Cruse's execution won't go forward is a moratorium imposed on the Florida death penalty late last year because of complications with an execution. The governor's office is reviewing a report issued in March, and a decision is expected soon.

Late that Thursday afternoon 20 years ago, Cruse, then 59 and a retired librarian, stormed out of his home off Palm Bay's Creel Road to confront teens bouncing a basketball in a neighbor's driveway. He was holding a shotgun.

Police said he had run-ins with them before, and he fired and wounded a 14-year-old boy. Then Cruse went back inside and retrieved an assault rifle. He continued to fire shots at his neighbors' homes as he drove away.

He later opened fire on two Florida Tech students, killing both. Two other men were shot and injured.

Cruse then drove his car farther south. There he shot and killed Ruth Greene, 67, who was leaving the Publix Supermarket. Cruse drove across Babcock and stopped at Winn-Dixie.

Officer Gerry Johnson arrived at the store and was shot in the leg. He emptied his revolver at Cruse but missed. Johnson scrambled from his car and tried to reload. Cruse stalked after him and shot him in the head.

Just before he killed the officer, Cruse took aim at Ruben Torres, 39, a mailman at the time. When Torres went to the front of the store, he saw employees and other customers on the floor and Cruse in the parking lot.

"I guess William Cruse saw me because he shot at me right through the doors, and everything I had in my hand went flying," Torres said. "I don't know where I got the strength from, but I took the doors off the track and got out of the store."

As Cruse killed Johnson, Torres ran to his car and ducked.

"I got my gun out of my glove compartment and we started a little shootout," he said.

Originally criticized, Torres since has been credited with distracting Cruse, allowing people to escape from Winn-Dixie. He still has the nickel-plated, silver-handled pistol he used that night.

When Officer Ron Grogan arrived, Cruse shot eight times through the windshield, killing him. The officer had been married only two months.

Cruse then ran into Winn-Dixie, firing at people fleeing through a back exit. He shot Lester Watson, 52, in the back. Forty-five minutes after firing shots at his neighbors, Cruse found two women hiding in the restroom. He let one go; the other, Robin Mucha, would become his hostage. The siege ended six hours later when Cruse released Mucha and came out, as tear gas canisters were shot into the store.

Cruse's defense from the beginning was insanity, and Wolfinger worked hard to dispute it.

"It was obvious that there's something wrong and that he wasn't operating on all cylinders, but that's not insanity," Wolfinger said.

Cruse was convicted in 1989. His next competency hearing is scheduled for July. He has well surpassed the average length of stay for Death Row inmates of almost 13 years. Carolyn Snurkowski, spokeswoman for the state attorney general, said execution is still a possibility.

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