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Florida jury recommends death for confessed killer Danny Rolling

GAINESVILLE, Fla., March 24 -- A Florida jury unanimously recommended the death sentence Thursday for Danny Rolling, who has pleaded guilty to each of the five Gainesville student murders.

Circuit Judge Stan Morris will make the final decision on Rolling's sentence, but said the advisory recommendation will carry 'great weight.'

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A simple majority of seven jurors was needed for the death sentence recommendation, but the vote was 12-0 on each of the five counts of first-degree murder.

The jury recommendation was expected. 'I'm not surprised by this,' said Rolling's lead attorney, Rick Parker. 'I knew it would be a 12-0 vote.'

Parker has already begun formulating an appeal on the grounds he was denied a change of venue.

'This was not a fair jury. The community atmosphere demanded a death penalty,' he said.

Rolling's fiancee Sondra London appeared shaken by the verdict, but said she had expected he would receive a death sentence.

State Attorney Rod Smith praised his team of prosecutors and the jury for their work.

'If this case didn't fit the criteria for the death penalty, I don't know what case would,' he said.

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The state and defense are now entitled to a sentencing hearing. Morris scheduled that hearing for next Tuesday at 9 a.m. EST.

Morris said the court would consider the jury verdict, along with any mitigating circumstances, before he pronounces Rolling's sentence.

'I suspect it will be a number of weeks between the sentencing hearing next week and the imposition of sentence,' Morris said.

Rolling, 39, pleaded guilty Feb. 15 to the 1990 slayings and several other related charges.

The victims were Christina Powell, 17, of Jacksonville, Fla.; Sonja Larson, 18, of Deerfield Beach, Fla.; Christa Hoyt, 18, of Archer, Fla; Tracy Paules, 23, of Palm Springs North, Fla.; and Manuel Taboada, 23, of Carol City, Fla.

The jury's decision came as welcome news to Tracy Paules' family. Cousin Ann Paules said, 'When I heard the verdict I just started crying, then a big smile came on my face.'

Ann Garren, Christa Hoyt's mother, said she attended every session of the trial to honor the courage of the victims.

'We got what we prayed for,' she said. 'It's partial relief.'

Gainesville victim's advocate Laura Knudson acknowledged that the verdict would not bring back the dead students, but would allow their families to know that Rolling would never kill again.

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(Written by Jeff Bray in Miami from information provided by Russell Lewis in Gainesville.)

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