Thursday, June 21, 2007

Rodgers gets death penalty


State high court threw out previous sentence in killing

Louis Cooper
lcooper@pnj.com

For the second time, convicted murderer Jeremiah Rodgers has been sentenced to die for the 1998 death of Pace High School senior Jennifer Robinson.

Circuit Judge Paul Rasmussen imposed the same sentence Wednesday that he delivered in 2000. The Florida Supreme Court threw out the original death sentence last year, citing improperly handled evidence, and ordered a new penalty phase.

Rodgers' new death sentence is subject to an automatic review by the state Supreme Court.

Rasmussen said the crimes Rodgers is convicted of meet the "cold, calculated and premeditated" standard that must be present to impose the death penalty.

Rodgers and co-defendant Jon Lawrence were convicted of killing Robinson, an 18-year-old woman just days away from graduating. Lawrence also received the death penalty for that slaying.

They also were convicted of killing Justin Livingston, Lawrence's mentally disabled cousin. Both are serving life sentences for that crime.

In addition, Rodgers and Lawrence were convicted for the attempted murder of Leighton Smitherman, whom the duo selected randomly and shot through Smitherman's living room window. Smitherman survived.

"It would appear from the evidence that the defendant was on a killing spree in Northwest Florida, for reasons only known to the defendant," Rasmussen said, reading from his sentencing order. "The defendant killed Jennifer Robinson for no other apparent reason than the thrill of doing it."

Robinson's mother, Diane Robinson, was in the courtroom Wednesday with a group of family and friends.

"I'm so glad this is over," she said. "I know, if he's ever executed, he will never hurt anyone else. No one will ever have to feel what all of us have felt."

Rodgers had lured Jennifer Robinson to a remote area of North Santa Rosa County on the pretense of a date, although Lawrence came along, according to court testimony and documents.

The two men deliberately got Robinson drunk. Rodgers then used Lawrence's gun to shoot her in the back of the head. Lawrence molested her body, and both men mutilated it before leaving it in a shallow grave in the woods.

"The common theme in the defendant's actions was a plan to kill human beings for reasons known only to the defendant and his co-defendant," the judge said. "They had even discussed these random killings two years prior while both were in prison."

Rasmussen rejected defense claims that Rodgers' various mental disorders contributed to the crimes and that he was under Lawrence's domination at the time of the crimes.

The judge, however, gave some consideration to the fact that Lawrence has a history of being sexually and physically abused by his parents.

"The court agrees that the environment within which the defendant was raised and the treatment he received at the hands of his mother and father was abhorrent and undoubtedly contributed to his early problems with the criminal justice system," Rasmussen said. "Although defendant's family history and background clearly does not excuse or establish a defense for what he did, it must be considered" when setting a sentence.

Justin Livingston's mother, Elizabeth Livingston, was also at the sentencing.

"I am very happy," she said. "I hope the next time I see him is at his execution."

Diane Robinson bemoaned the legal system that has allowed Rodgers' case to be so drawn out.

"I just don't think it's fair for people to have to go through this over and over and over," she said. "I know there are innocent people in prison. I understand that. But when there's so much evidence, so many confessions, it makes no sense to me why so much money is spent over and over and over. He admits he did it. I don't understand."

1 comment:

Josh Weir said...

Agree completely just finish quickly for the family's of the victims. And the taxpayers wallets.