Serial Killer Who Menaced Gay Community Set for Execution

(CN) – A serial killer who preyed on older gay men faces the death penalty Thursday night after failing to secure a stay of execution from the 11th Circuit on the basis of mental disability.

Gary Ray Bowles is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection at Florida State Prison on Thursday for the murder of Walter Hinton in Jacksonville Beach in November 1994. (Photo courtesy of Florida Department of Corrections)

In the culmination of a 20-year legal battle, public defenders for Gary Ray Bowles hinged their habeas petition on a doctor’s testimony that Bowles has an IQ of just 74, significantly below average. They argued as well that Bowles had left home in his teens and become a prostitute after surviving years of childhood beatings from two stepfathers.

Bowles had failed to raise any mental-disability issues when he brought an earlier habeas petition in 2008, however, and the 11th Circuit refused Wednesday to grant the 57-year-old a stay of execution.

In separate proceedings, the Florida Supreme Court also barred Bowles’ intellectual-disability claim as untimely.

Florida has the fourth-highest number of executions by state since 1976, having put to death 98 inmates, but Bowles will be only the second prisoner to be executed in the Sunshine State this year.

Set to be put to death by lethal injection, Bowles confessed in 1994 to bashing in the skull of Walter Hinton, a Jacksonville florist who had recently let Bowles move into his trailer. Bowles said Hinton had been asleep when he dropped a 40-pound rock on the man’s head. Hinton was still conscious so Bowles strangled him, stuffed a rag and toilet paper down his throat, and made off with his car. 

Bowles was quickly apprehended and admitted then to murdering five other men that year stretching up the I-95 from Florida to Maryland. 

A 1994 law enforcement bulletin describes a modus operandi whereby Bowles would meet men in gay bars and ingratiate himself in their lives before robbing and murdering them. He kept on the move and drifted from town to town, at times working as a prostitute.

“Blunt force injury, strangulation, and/or gunshot wounds were the causes of death,” the bulletin says. “Some victims were also gagged. Credit cards, cash, and automobiles, when available, were taken from the victims.”

The killings instilled fear in the gay community along the southeast U.S. coast in the summer and fall of 1994. 

Bowles’ death sentence was struck down for a short period in the late 1990s, when the Florida Supreme Court found that prosecutors had “improperly made Bowles’ alleged hatred of homosexuals a feature of the sentencing proceeding.”

On remand, a jury unanimously recommended that he be put to death.

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