RAIFORD, Fla. (FOX 13) - After more than 30 years on death row, a serial killer who once terrorized the Tampa Bay area was executed Thursday night. Bobby Joe Long was pronounced dead by lethal injection at 6:55 p.m.
Long raped and murdered at least eight women in the 1980s. At the time, investigators were horrified and baffled by the trail of bodies. Artiss Ann Wick was the first woman killed, in March 1984; nine more victims followed. Most of the women were strangled. Some had their throats slit. Others were bludgeoned.
Detectives had few clues until Lisa McVey got away and helped officers find her attacker.
Long later confessed to the crimes, receiving 28 life sentences and one death sentence for the murder of 22-year-old Michelle Simms.
It took more than three decades, but that sentence was finally carried out Thursday evening. After his last meal - he requested roast beef, bacon, French fries, and soda - the 65-year-old was executed at the Florida State Prison in Raiford.
In a plain, concrete, windowless death chamber, FOX 13's Lloyd Sowers, along with 25 observers plus Department of Corrections staff, witnessed Long's final living moments.
Sowers told fellow reporter Evan Axelbank that the procedure started at 6:43. The execution, originally scheduled to begin at 6 p.m., was delayed 43 minutes, but the reason was not immediately explained.
Long's last word was "no," in that, when asked, he had nothing further to say. Long's lips moved once or twice at 6:44, then his breathing became labored. Long became motionless.
At 6:47, Sowers says Long was shaken and did not respond. A woman with a lab coat and stethoscope examined Long and said something to an agent. The agent then said, "The state of Florida vs. Robert Long, time of death 6:55."
According to Sowers, no one had a visible reaction and there was no emotion expressed among victims' families. One wore a shirt with pictures of the victims.
After the execution, witnesses, some of whom were victims or related to victims, spoke to reporters.
Lula Williams, the mother of victim Chanel Williams, was firm in saying "I'm glad we were here to see that murderer put to death."
Williams remembered Chanel as "a loving daughter, kindhearted sister, loved by her family."
"Along with the other victims, we all have the justice they deserve," Lula Williams said.
Chanel's younger sister, Algalana Douglas, said none of the victims deserved to die.
"That's the hardest thing about this whole situation, is what these victims went through," she said.
The cousin and sister of victim Kim Swann witnessed the execution. Lisa Rich and Tammy Kaspi stood together at the podium to speak to reporters. Rich said victims' families have "suffered tremendously" and thanked the governor for signing Long's death warrant.
"This isn't going to bring any of our loved ones back, but it's gonna give us closure," she said.
Kaspi, who spoke to FOX 13 earlier in the week, summed up the experience as being "finally over."
A surviving victim, Linda Nuttall, was 33 when she was attacked by Long during the week of Memorial Day, 1984. Long responded to a classified ad taken out by Nuttall, which was said to be his method for finding targets. She survived -- and stood with her husband after the execution. Nuttall read from a prepared statement, saying she was grateful for the support she's received over the last 34 years.
"I want to thank all of the law enforcement, all of the detectives, Ron DeSantis. Today, justice was served," she said.
A victim advocate from Gov. Ron DeSantis' office read a statement from the family of Karen Dinsfriend, which said, in part, "it does not soothe my soul for him to be executed... Hopefully, this will help some sleep well and bring closure," and thanked survivors for "staying strong."
Surviving victim Lisa Noland, known as Lisa McVey at the time of her attack, was the final witness to give a statement after Long's execution. Now a deputy with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office and vocal advocate for victims of violent crimes, Noland read from a prepared statement, telling the story of the brutal torture she suffered at the hands of Bobby Joe Long.
November 4, 1984, Long released Lisa and she played a key role in his capture.
"He knew what he was doing. I could have been in a ditch somewhere," she told Channel 13's Warren Elly in 1984 after her ordeal.
Thursday, she spoke about remembering Long's victims who did not survive, reading each of their names aloud.
"I want to give credit to god... who saved my life 35 years ago," Noland said.
Noland had a message for Long on the day of his death.
"Bobby Joe Long, thank you," Lisa said, before pausing to regain composure. "Thank you for choosing me instead of another 17-year-old little girl. The reason why I say 'thank you' now is because I have forgiven you for what you have done to me. Had I not forgiven you, I might as well be in my own prison, without walls. God has shown me the only way to really be free when someone bestows injustice against you is complete forgiveness. My life changed forever, and for the better. I chose not to remain a victim, I chose to live."
When asked if the world feels different now that Long was gone, Noland told FOX 13's Lloyd Sowers, "The peace that came over me is a remarkable feeling, that justice has been served."
Long is the 98th person executed in Florida since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976, the first under Gov. Ron DeSantis.
He was among the longest-serving inmates on the state's death row.
"I'm sure those women he killed would have liked 30 more years on this planet, but Bobby Joe Long decides they're not going to have those 30 more years. But our system allows him 30 more years. It's a travesty," added former state prosecutor Mike Benito.
Information from the Associated Press was included in this report.