‘Vampire Killer’ keeps his life sentence

After looking at Ferrell’s history “and based on the evidence presented, (the court) finds that he is irreparably corrupt,” Circuit Judge G. Richard Singeltary wrote in his sentencing memo this week.

The Daily Commercial, Florida/April 11, 2020

By Frank Stanfield

Tavares — Rod Ferrell, who killed the parents of one of his teen vampire cult members in Eustis in 1996, will stay behind bars for the rest of his life, a judge has ruled.

Ferrell was hoping for a reduction in his life sentence. His re-sentencing was spurred a U.S. Supreme Court decision that ruled juveniles should not automatically get life without parole sentences because scientific research shows their brains are still developing. He was 16 when he committed the murders.

“It is the court’s responsibility to evaluate whether the defendant was ‘the juvenile offender whose crimes reflect unfortunate yet transient immaturity, or the rare juvenile offender whose crime reflect irreparable corruption,’” Circuit Judge G. Richard Singeltary wrote in his sentencing memo this week, quoting the case law.

But after looking at Ferrell’s history “and based on the evidence presented, (the court) finds that he is irreparably corrupt.”

One of the things judges must consider when sentencing is the facts of the case.

“In this case, the facts of the double homicide of Richard and Naoma Ruth Queen, as well as the armed burglary and armed robbery, are among the most appalling,” Singeltary wrote.

“These two victims were peacefully going about their daily lives when the defendant violated the sanctity of their home. Rather than restraining them or tying them up as he had contemplated, he entered their home and beat them to death with a crowbar. After his arrest, he described these events to law enforcement (and later journalists) without any remorse and without any indication that he was psychologically impacted by having beaten two human beings to death.”

Ferrell told police the killings were “a rush” and that he felt like “a god.”

The crime, against the background of occult blood-drinking and Ferrell claiming to be a 500-year-old immortal, sparked international headlines and led to some of the most intense news coverage in Lake County history. The slain couple’s 15-year-old daughter, Heather Wendorf, ran away with the Kentucky cult, but she was not prosecuted when she said she did not know her parents would be harmed.

Originally sentenced to death in 1998, Ferrell’s sentence was commuted to life by the Florida Supreme Court because was only 16 when the crime was committed.

Ferrell got his chance for a new hearing in November, with a noted defense lawyer, Terence M. Lenamon, three mental health experts and other witnesses. He even took the stand to apologize to the family.

“I know nothing I say or do can bring them back,” Ferrell said. “I hope you know just how truly sorry I am.”

The family was not buying it.

The couple’s daughter, Jennifer Wendorf, said at the resentencing hearing that, the pain “will never go away.” She was 17 when she came home to discover her parents had been beaten to the point that they were unrecognizable.

She begged Singeltary to keep Ferrell in prison.

“Her plea to the court was based not only on the fact that the defendant had murdered both of her parents but was also founded upon her sincere fear for her own safety and that of her children,” the judge noted in his order. “Her fear is justified not only because of the murder of her parents but also considering the following statement from Rod Ferrell made to the Baton Rouge Police Department: ‘Thought about waiting for [Heather Wendorf’s] sister ... but decided, nah, why bother. Let her come home, have a mental breakdown, call the police, which I was correct, she did.’”

Singeltary also noted that Ferrell has a long history of lying, which shows he is not a reliable candidate for rehabilitation.

He told a defense expert that he drank half a bottle of alcohol in the late afternoon before the murders, smoked a lot of marijuana, consumed eight to 10 strips of LSD and took about 15 Prozac pills within an hour of the murders.

There was no evidence to sustain the claim, Singeltary wrote. In fact, Ferrell told prison officials he was not under the influence when the crime was committed, and he gave a different account to a prosecution expert.

During his 1998 trial, a defense psychologist testified that Ferrell admitted that he was pretending to be mentally ill, Singeltary noted.

Ferrell told another defense psychological expert that Wendorf was dead and Queen was dying when he entered the house.

“I had the feeling it was like a game to him,” Dr. Wade Myers testified.

Ferrell told yet another psychologist that codefendant Howard Scott Anderson attacked Queen, but he had earlier told police that his friend “froze.” A different judge reduced Anderson’s life sentence to 40 years in 2018. Anderson pleaded guilty in 1998 to avoid a possible death penalty.

Ferrell claimed during the resentencing hearing that Heather told him her father was sexually abusing him, though there is no evidence. Ferrell, who said he was a victim of childhood sexual abuse, was outraged, a defense expert said.

Ferrell told police that on the day he came to get Heather to run away to New Orleans there was no talk of killing her parents.

“Nothing about death or anything besides just running away,” he said.

The plan was to get Heather and a friend of hers and run away to New Orleans with the cult.

Ferrell said Heather never explicitly suggested that she wanted her parents dead, but she dropped “hints.”

She has denied it in interrogations, depositions, interviews and in an appearance before one of the two grand juries that met to decide her fate.

“Ferrell’s new claim that he came to Eustis to save Heather ... is not credible,” the judge wrote.

Ferrell and his three fellow Kentucky cult members came to Florida in a car that was breaking down. He claimed there was no plan to kill the couple in their home, but he told a former Eustis High classmate hours before that he had to kill the Wendorfs to get their new Ford Explorer.

Trial defense experts cited a wildly dysfunctional home life, including Ferrell’s mother dabbling in vampirism, and said he had personality disorders. The resentencing experts said they could not diagnose personality disorder in a juvenile. Two out of three said he knew the difference between right and wrong.

Much of their opinion was based on records furnished by the defense, or Ferrell’s account.

The state’s expert testified, Dr. Gregory Prichard, said that Ferrell “was not under the influence of extreme or emotional distress when he murdered the victims.”

Prichard concluded that Ferrell did have some personality issues. Assistant State Attorney Rich Buxman, the circuit’s homicide expert, handled the rehearing for the state.

The judge considered the defense testimony of a former prison warden, who is now a rehabilitation expert. He cited a lack of major disciplinary reports. But county jail officers found two homemade knives in Ferrell’s cell, and he bragged to a female officer that he could escape by attacking transportation officers.

Two women also testified at the resentencing hearing, including a woman who said she wanted to marry Ferrell. Neither woman has known Ferrell for a long time, according to the judge’s order.

One of the resentencing defense experts went so far as to say the nature of the crime is not a fair indicator of whether a defendant can be rehabilitated.

“We’re very, very pleased,” Queen’s daughter, Paula Queen Lohse, said Thursday when she learned of Judge Singeltary’s ruling. “It’s been tough. It’s like there’s been a weight on us.”

It has been 23 years, but the family thinks about her all the time, Lohse said.

“We just get sad. Someone will say, Ruth, or mother, would have loved this,” she said. “She would have been so happy to see that her kids and grandkids are doing so well.”

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