Florida set to execute ‘ninja killer’ in couple’s 1989 death
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida has ramped up executions under Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, with a man known as the “ninja killer” set to die Wednesday for the 1989 slayings of a couple visiting the state from New Jersey.
Louis Bernard Gaskin, 56, was scheduled to be executed at 6 p.m. by lethal injection for the deaths of Robert Sturmfels, 56, and Georgette Sturmfels, 55, on Dec. 20, 1989, in their Flagler County winter home on Florida’s northeastern coast.
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.
This execution comes 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 Gaskin and 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.
It will be the state’s 100th execution since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. There are an additional 297 people on Florida’s death row.
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 have rejected appeals Gaskin filed since his death warrant was signed, with the latest denial coming Tuesday.