Florida executes ‘ninja killer’ for couple’s 1989 death


STARKE, Fla. (AP) – Florida executed a man known as the “ninja killer” on Wednesday for the 1989 slayings of a couple visiting the state from New Jersey.

Louis Bernard Gaskin, 56, was pronounced dead at 6:15 p.m. after receiving a lethal injection, the governor’s office said. He was convicted of killing Robert Sturmfels, 56, and Georgette Sturmfels, 55, on Dec. 20, 1989, in their Flagler County winter home on Florida’s northeastern coast.

Gaskin woke up at 4:45 a.m. Wednesday and had his last meal at 9:45 a.m., Department of Corrections spokesperson Kayla McLaughlin Smith said during a news conference. The meal included BBQ pork ribs, pork and turkey neck, Buffalo wings, shrimp fried rice, french fries and water.

Gaskin was visited by his sister Wednesday, but he did not meet with a spiritual adviser, McLaughlin Smith said. No relatives of the victims had arranged to be in the witness room during the execution, which was scheduled for 6 p.m. and started without delay.

When asked if he had any final statement, Gaskin said: “Justice is not about the crime. It’s not about the criminal. It’s about the law.”

He then referred to the legal proceedings surrounding his case and the appeals and finished his statement saying, “Look at my case.”

Gaskin began receiving the lethal cocktail of drugs at 6:02 p.m., causing him to breathe heavily as his chest rose and fell under a white sheet. The prison’s warden went to check on whether Gaskin was still conscious at 6:05 p.m. He didn’t respond. Gaskin’s breathing appeared to stop at 6:07 p.m. A doctor entered the death chamber at 6:14 p.m. to examine Gaskin and declared him dead a minute later.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has been signing death warrants at a rapid pace this year as he prepares his widely expected presidential campaign. He oversaw only two executions in his first four years in office, both in 2019.

Gaskin’s execution came six weeks after Donald Dillbeck, 59, was put to death for the 1990 murder of Faye Vann, 44, in Tallahassee, and three weeks before the scheduled execution of Darryl B. Barwick for slaying Rebecca Wendt, 24, in 1986 in Panama City.

Barring any stays for Barwick, it will be the shortest period that three executions have been carried out in Florida since three were put to death within 36 days in 2014 under former Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican.

Gaskin’s death marked the state’s 101st execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. There are an additional 297 people on Florida’s death row, which is located at Florida State Prison, about 40 miles (65 kilometers) southwest of Jacksonville.

Gaskin, who was dubbed the “ninja killer” because he wore all-black ninja clothing during the crimes, shot his victims with a .22-caliber rifle, investigators said. He was convicted of first-degree murder.

Property that he stole from the Sturmfels’ home – a clock, two lamps and a videocassette recorder – was found at his residence and were intended to be Christmas gifts for his girlfriend, according to investigators. He was also convicted of armed robbery, burglary and the attempted murder that same night of another couple who lived nearby.

Local media reported at the time that Gaskin quickly confessed to the crimes and told a psychologist before his trial that he knew what he was doing.

“The guilt was always there,” Gaskin said. “The devil had more of a hold than God did. I knew that I was wrong. I wasn’t insane.”

Jurors voted 8-4 in 1990 to recommend the death sentence, which the judge accepted. Florida law now requires a unanimous jury vote for capital punishment, although the Legislature could send DeSantis a bill this week that would allow 8-4 jury recommendations for capital punishment.

The state and U.S. supreme courts rejected appeals Gaskin filed since his death warrant was signed. The latest denial came Tuesday.

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This story has been updated to correct the number of people executed by Florida since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976.


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