Donna Witmer never got a chance to witness the events that many parents cherish in the lives of their daughters.
She never got a chance to see her 17-year-old daughter, Stephanie Collins, graduate from high school. Nor did she get a chance to see if she would marry and make her a grandmother.
What Witmer did witness, however, was the execution of Oscar Ray Bolin Jr. – the Tampa serial killer who stole those opportunities from her when he fatally stabbed Collins and two other young women in the Tampa Bay area in 1986. After attending trials for more than 30 years, Witmer said that Bolin’s execution brought her relief.
“I just miss her so much,” Witmer told reporters. “I could be driving down the road and a song comes on that she might have liked, and I just want to reach out and grab her. And that hurts.”
On Thursday Bolin, 53, became the first man in the nation to be executed in 2016. While he was convicted of Collins’ murder and the murder of 25-year-old Natalie Holley, Gov. Rick Scott signed his death warrant for the murder of Teri Lynn Matthews, 26.
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Some of Collin’s high school friends sat outside the Florida State Prison for over four hours awaiting a Supreme Court ruling on a stay of execution. Bolin’s defense team argued that the conviction couldn’t possibly be upheld, because the case hadn’t been fully reviewed. Bolin’s case appears on a list created by the inspector general as one that should be reviewed after an FBI examiner had been found to have created unsupportable lab facts.
Some of Collin’s friends traveled from Missouri to see Bolin executed.
“I’ve known Stephanie since we were 11 and we’ve been going through this for 30 years and this is the closest we will ever have to closure,” said Jill Kirkpatrick Bounds, one of Collins’ friends.
After the Supreme Court rejected Bolin’s final appeal without comment, he was put to death by lethal injection and pronounced dead at 10:16 P.M.
Bolin’s wife, Rosalie, who was also part of his defense team, went to visit him from 8:00-11:00 the morning of his death.
“He was a very gentle man, very calm, very quiet, very peaceful fella, he was very, very smart, had a loving soul. He was a good man,” said Seth Penalver, who was the 23rd person to be exonerated from death row in Florida.
According to Penalver the two men were neighbors inside the prison facility and he worked very closely with Bolin’s wife to prove his innocence. But those who were close to Bolin’s victims believed that justice had been done.
“I witnessed something I never want to repeat and I’m glad it’s done,” said Kathleen Reeves, mother of Teri Lynn Matthews. “As for forgiveness, that will never happen because he never accepted responsibility for what he had done.”