Death sentence for cult leader reduced

Sun Sentinel/November 10, 2000
By Jackie Hallifax

The death sentence of a cult leader condemned for fatally beating a Eustis couple in 1996 was reduced to life in prison Thursday by the state Supreme Court.

The decision was expected because Florida's high court ruled more than a year ago that the state can not execute killers who committed their crime before they reached age 17.

That July 1999 decision said allowing such a rare punishment would be cruel and unusual and therefore unconstitutional. The 4-3 opinion came in the case of a killer who murdered just eight days before his 17th birthday.

Rod Ferrell, now 20, was 16 when he killed Richard Wendorf and Naoma Ruth Queen on Nov. 25, 1996. The couple were beaten with crowbars in their home in Eustis, about 30 miles northwest of Orlando.

Ferrell was the leader of a vampire cult from Murray, Ky. He and three followers came to Florida to help the couple's daughter run away.

He pleaded guilty to the murders.

In Thursday's unsigned ruling, the Supreme Court vacated his death sentence, reducing it to life in prison without the possibility of parole. The court cited its July 1999 decision.

Justices Leander Shaw, Major Harding, Harry Lee Anstead, Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince made up the majority. Chief Justice Charles Wells dissented.

The state Supreme Court refused to outlaw executions of 17-year-old killers a decade ago. Five years ago, the court said the Florida Constitution barred the execution of killers who murdered at age 15.

Of the 40 states with capital punishment, 15 already explicitly bar execution of killers who murder at age 16. Of the remaining 25, only four have upheld death sentences imposed on killers that young.

In 1988, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed the execution of a killer who murdered at age 15. A year later, the nation's high court refused to raise that bar to include killers who were 16 and 17 when they murdered.

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