Editor’s note: This story is a bit delayed, but I’ve finally returned from my travels, so posts should be more regular from this point forward.
Two Florida death row inmates have died awaiting execution, one of whom was the longest continuously serving death row inmate in the state. waiting nearly 40 years at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford.
Olen C. Gorby, 63, and Gary Alvord, 66, who has been on death row longer than any other inmate in Florida, both died this month on Florida’s death row.
Alvord arrived on the row on April 4, 1974 and remained there until he died Sunday, May 19. The Department of Corrections has not released any more details at this time, however, his attorneys say he died of a brain tumor and was also fighting lung cancer.
Alvord was arrested, convicted and tried for the 1973 murders of Georgia Tully, 53, her daughter Ann Herrman, 36, and her granddaughter Lynne Herrman, 18. All three women had been strangled and Lynne Herrman had been raped.
Alvord was sentenced to death for the crimes in 1974. Since that time, “he has survived eight presidents, nine governors and two death warrants. Since his arrival on death row, Alvord has seen 74 other inmates continue on to the execution chamber” according to the Tampa Bay Times. From the article:
So why is Gary Alvord still alive?
The simple answer is that he is crazy. For most of his life, Alvord has been plagued by delusions and disordered thoughts that doctors have most often attributed to schizophrenia and antisocial personality disorder. His condition, lawyers have argued, makes him incapable of understanding capital punishment.
Alvord’s mental illness has long plagued him, according to the story.
The son of a reportedly abusive father and a mother who suffered recurring mental breakdowns, Alvord spent much of a his childhood in institutions in his native Michigan. In 1960, at age 13, he was sent to live in a state mental hospital.
As he grew, doctors noted clear signs that the young man was disturbed. He threatened to kill doctors and other patients. He tried to escape from the hospital numerous times. After one escape, he was alleged to have been involved in a shooting. Those who knew him say he was a prolific thief.
In 1967, while on release, he kidnapped and raped a 10-year-old girl.
As he awaited trial, Alvord was hospitalized after he swallowed five spoons, a razor blade, nuts and bolts, shower attachments and empty rolled-up toothpaste tubes. He said that “voices from the spirit world” told him that the objects he swallowed would cure “cuts, cancer and other illnesses.”
Florida tried twice to execute Alvord, first in 1981 and again in 1984, but psychiatrists deemed him incapable of understanding his punishment. According to the Tampa Bay Times, Alvord was sent to a hospital in 1984 to be treated and restored to competence. “But doctors there refused to treat him, citing the ethical dilemma of making a patient well just so that he could be killed. He was quietly returned to death row in 1987 and remained there ever since. His final appeal expired in 1998.”
In the article, attorney Bill Sheppard, who represented Alvord for most of his time on the row, told Dan Sullivan:
“I would love for the state of Florida to tell us how much money they wasted trying to kill a guy they couldn’t kill. The death penalty is getting us nothing but broke.”
With Alvord’s death, Florida’s longest continuously serving death row inmate is now Douglas R. Meeks, who arrived on the row in March of 1975. There are a handful of other inmates who arrived earlier, but have not been on the row continuously, due to new trials or other legal wranglings.
While Alvord’s death received national coverage, Olen C. Gorby’s death has received little to no media attention. Gorby is listed as deceased, or, in DOC terms, “released” on May 13, 2013.
According to case records, Gorby had a lengthy criminal record that spanned several states, but ended up on Florida’s death row for the 1990 killing of J.A. Raborn. According to the case summary:
Olen Gorby was living in a homeless shelter at the time of the crime. The victim, J.A. Raborn, who was handicapped, picked up men from the shelter to do odd jobs around his home.
Witnesses saw Gorby with Raborn on 05/06/90 and the next day. The victim’s neighbor saw a hand-written note on the door of the home that said that the owner was out of town and would return on 05/08/90. This note aroused the suspicions of the neighbor, and upon entering the home, she found Raborn dead of head injuries. Raborn had been struck in the head seven times with a claw hammer. Raborn’s car and credit cards were missing.
Gorby’s fingerprint was found on a jar in the victim’s kitchen, and at trial, a handwriting expert testified that he had written the note left on the victim’s door. Further evidence linking Gorby to the murder was the fact that Raborn’s credit cards were used in Florida, Louisiana, and Texas. Police found the stolen car in Texas, arrested Gorby, and extradited him to Florida.
There are no released details on Gorby’s cause of death or what will happen with his remains.