TAMPA, Fla. (AP) – Oscar Ray Bolin was first found guilty of murdering three women nearly 30 years ago. In the decades since, every one of the verdicts delivered by juries in three separate trials was reversed at least twice by appeals courts, although ultimately he was convicted again in each case: 10 times by 10 juries, to be exact.
It now appears Bolin’s legal pleas are coming to an end.
Unless an appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court steps in, Bolin, 53, will be executed Thursday at 6 p.m. in Florida State Prison for the 1986 slaying of Teri Lynn Matthews.
For Matthews’ family and relatives of the two other victims, it’s about time.
“It will be in a sense, a closure,” said Matthews’ mother, Kathleen Reeves. “It’s been so long. The pain doesn’t change. It’s just time for it. It’s due. It’s past due.”
Bolin’s trials received widespread publicity in the Tampa Bay area – but not just because of the seemingly endless legal processes or the brutal nature of the killings.
While on trial, Bolin and a woman on his defense team fell in love. Rosalie Martinez had been a paralegal at the Hillsborough Public Defender’s office who was married to a prominent Tampa attorney. Martinez divorced him and married Bolin, on live TV, in 1996 – 10 years after the slayings.
Rosalie Bolin says her husband is innocent in Matthews’ killing, and she has become one of the state’s most outspoken death penalty opponents since her marriage to Oscar Ray Bolin.
Police said Bolin’s first Florida victim was 25-year-old Natalie Holley, who was abducted after she left work at a Tampa fast food restaurant in January of 1986. In October of that same year, 17-year-old Stephanie Collins disappeared from a shopping center parking lot in Tampa. Two months later, Matthews was abducted from a post office in Pasco County, just north of Tampa. All three were fatally stabbed.
The cases went unsolved until someone called an anonymous tip line in 1990, when Bolin was already serving a 22- to 75-year prison sentence in Ohio for kidnapping and raping a 20-year-old waitress outside Toledo in 1987.
Authorities later discovered it was the new husband of Bolin’s ex-wife who called in the tip; the ex-wife said Bolin had told her about the killings in 1986. During the trial, Bolin’s younger half brother said he watched Bolin beat Matthews and try to drown her with a garden hose. The half brother later recanted his story, then reversed his position again.
All of Bolin’s convictions were reversed at least twice due to legal errors, but new juries found him guilty again in all three cases. He once again received the death penalty in the Matthews’ and Collins’ killings, but a new jury in the Holley slaying found Bolin guilty of second-degree murder, converting his previous death sentence to a sentence of life in prison.
Reeves said it doesn’t matter that Bolin is not awaiting execution in all three cases “because he only dies once.”
“He dies for all of our girls.”
The mothers of the three victims attended many of the trials together. Holley’s mother died in 2012.
In motions for a stay of execution filed with a district court and the Florida Supreme Court, Bolin contends that an Ohio inmate confessed to Matthews’ murder. The inmate committed suicide in late 2014, however. Both courts denied the stay.
Bolin’s attorney, Bjorn Brunvand of Clearwater, said he filed another motion to stay with the district court and with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeals court denied the motion Monday. If all appeals are denied, Brunvand said he will file a motion to stay with the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think that he should get a new trial because another individual has confessed to that murder,” Brunvand said.
Brunvand is also arguing that Bolin should get a new trial in the Matthews case because the technique of an FBI hair analyst who produced evidence against him was later discredited.
Rosalie Bolin has declined to speak about her husband’s pending execution. But she wrote in an email that “the State is about to execute an innocent man based on perjury, police misconduct, tainted FBI evidence … confessions of other perps … prosecutorial conduct.”
The victims’ families say that they’ve been put through hell by the endless appeals, and put some of the blame on Bolin’s wife.
“He’d go on forever, he and Rosalie,” Reeves said.
In an interview with ABC’s 20/20 in August, Bolin said he wished the families were aware of evidence that he said would help exonerate him.
“They hear what the state wants them to hear and what the prosecution wants them to hear,” Bolin said. “But all the other evidence that’s been suppressed, I know about it and my attorneys know about it. They don’t.”
Reeves said she’s prepared to consider forgiveness, if Bolin admits to his guilt in the moments before his execution.
“If he even just hinted, or said, ‘I’m really sorry,’ I think we could think about forgiving him,” she said. “If he doesn’t do that, there is no forgiveness.”