BY TONY HOLT
JACKSONVILLE – Serial killer Gary Ray Bowles was executed Thursday night after a five-hour delay while the U.S. Supreme Court considered a last appeal from his attorneys, who contended the murderer was too intellectually disabled to die.
Bowles, 57, who committed the first of his six murders in Daytona Beach and the last in the Jacksonville area, died by lethal injection at 10:58 p.m.
His execution was scheduled for 6 p.m., but the nation’s highest court reviewed two applications for stays before rejecting those appeals.
In 1996, a Duval County jury convicted and recommended a death sentence for Bowles for the Nov. 20, 1994 slaying of 42-year-old Walter Hinton, of Jacksonville.
Bowles gave no statement, but referred to a two-page written statement that was later distributed to the media.
“I want to start by saying that I am so very sorry to all of the family and friends of Mr. Hinton,” Bowles wrote. “I never wanted to kill him and I’m sorry for all of the pain and suffering I have caused. I hope my death erases your pain.”
There were 29 people in the viewing room to witness the execution. Among them was Jacksonville-area prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda. He and others who witnessed the execution did not speak to the media afterward.
The first injection, a sedative, was administered at 10:44 p.m. After a series of ensuing injections, including a paralyzing agent and potassium acetate, Bowles was declared dead 14 minutes later.
Thursday afternoon, prison officials said Bowles had woken up earlier in the day in “good spirits.” As a supposed last meal, he ate three cheeseburgers, French fries, and some bacon. He then apparently settled in to await the court’s decision on his appeal, as did members of the media and others who had been brought into Florida State Prison at Starke to witness the execution.
Bowles killed six gay men in three states during an eight-month period in 1994.
The killing started March 14, 1994 when Bowles struck John Hardy Roberts, 59, in the back of his head with the base of a lamp inside his home on Vermont Avenue in Daytona Beach. Roberts was hurt, but not fully incapacitated. He fought back, nearly tearing off a fingertip during the struggle, according to Daytona Beach police.
Bowles choked Roberts, whose head and face were covered in blood from the blows from the lamp. Bowles eventually crammed a towel down Roberts’ throat to suffocate him. When police were called to the house the next day, they saw a gruesome scene and included a stream of blood that had flowed from the living room into one of the bedrooms.
Bowles had been staying with Roberts, who had paid him for sex, police said. After he killed him, Bowles stole Roberts’ car and wallet and headed north to Nashville, Tennessee, where his trail went cold.
KILLED FIVE MORE
Bowles wandered across the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic and killed five more people — David Jarman, 39, of Wheaton, Maryland; Milton Bradley, 72, of Savannah, Georgia; Alverson Carter Jr., 47, of Atlanta; Albert Alcie Morris, 37, of Hilliard; and Hinton.
In each case, Bowles prostituted himself to them before murdering them. In the cases of Morris and Hinton, he also lived with the victims for a short time before killing them.
Bradley was a disabled World War II veteran who was beaten and strangled near a golf course utility shed in Savannah. He was well known by the locals around town and many people Savannah’s gay community had seen Bowles at local pick-up spots. Some had seen him with Bradley at a downtown bar before the murder.
“I never wanted this to be my life,” Bowles wrote in his letter. “You don’t wake up one day and decide to become a serial killer.”
Michelle Glady, a Florida Department of Corrections spokeswoman, could not provide the names of all of the men and women who witnessed the execution. She said she would provide the media with a full list of witnesses Friday morning.
ABOUT HIS EARLY LIFE
As the injections began, Bowles began murmuring to himself before losing consciousness. His words were inaudible to those watching from the other side of the Plexiglas window.
Born on Jan. 25, 1962, in Clifton Forge, Virginia, Bowles was raised by his mother and various men she married. Bowles told investigators that two of his stepfathers beat him and mentally abused him.
He ran away from home at 14 and started earning money through prostitution. He told detectives he started doing that after a motorist picked him up hitchhiking when he was a teen and paid him for sex. Afterward, that motorist told Bowles he could earn easy money as a male prostitute.
Bowles had girlfriends. He sexually battered one in 1982, which resulted in his first prison stint. He wound up in and out of jails and prisons for much of his adult life before becoming the killing spree began that landed him on death row.
When he murdered Roberts, he had been bitter about his girlfriend leaving him, according to police. The woman left Bowles, detectives said, after she discovered he was hustling gay men.
Roberts could sense Bowles was still forlorn about his ex-girlfriend and gave him an ultimatum — get over her or get out of his house. That’s when Bowles murdered Roberts, police said.
Bowles’ appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which claimed he was too mentally incompetent to be executed, had been rejected earlier this month by the Florida Supreme Court and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit.
No one visited Bowles the day of his execution and he declined a visit from a spiritual advisor, Glady said.
In his letter, Bowles apologized to his mother.
“Having to deal with your son being a monster is terrible,” he said. “I’m so very sorry.”
Bowles was the 99th Florida death row inmate executed since the U.S. Supreme Court restored the death penalty in 1976. He would also be the first Volusia County killer executed since October 2002, when serial killer Aileen Wuornos died by lethal injection. The last Duval County killer executed was Mark Asay in August 2017.