On this date in 1998, the story of a boy named Paul ended in Florida’s electric chair.
Paul was born in 1951, in Schenectady, New York. He was the fifth child born to his mother, and would be the third she put up for adoption. At thirteen months old, Paul was malnourished and neglected both physically and emotionally to the point that county officials found him unfit to be adopted. But out of the slightest bit of luck, the small child caught the attention of Eugene and Norma Stano, who fought for six months to adopt the severely delayed child. And it was out of that luck that Paul became Gerald Eugene Stano.
Gerald Eugene Stano’s problems didn’t end with his new life with his adoptive parents; instead, he continued to develop a series of problems that would follow him, shaping his outlook on the world forever, and likely providing him with the excuses he needed to justify his actions later in life.
Gerald still wet the bed at ten, was the target for bullies and regularly laughed at by girls. Late in his life he would claim that women used to pull his hair, and even threw beer bottles at him, all without any provocation. He lagged behind in school, failing to graduate high school until he was 21 years old, and except for music class never achieved a grade higher than a C or D.
Yes, Gerald had a sad and difficult life, one that most people would find it easy to sympathize with. Despite his claims of being an outcast, Gerald flaunted his high opinion of himself, often going as far as to refer to himself as a “real Italian stallion”.
It seems that few really paid attention to Stano — not until March 25, 1980, when a woman by the name of Donna Hensley stumbled away from him, and walked into a police station.
Hensley would tell police that she was a prostitute, and had been approached by a man requesting her services. Once at her motel room, the two began to argue and the man ended up slicing her with a knife before insulting her and fleeing. Hensley was adamant that the man be found and charged.
An officer investigating the incident went looking for the prospective suspect, but ended the search with only a license plate for a car that matched the description. Following up with the plate number, the officer found the vehicle was registered to Gerald Eugene Stano, a 28-year-old man with a long arrest record but no convictions. Hensley gave a positive identification from Stano’s mug shot, and thus began investigation into a series of grisly murders.
On February 17, 1980 two college students had stumbled onto the decomposing remains of a young woman, and police had begun investigating the gruesome murder. The victim, 20-year-old Mary Carol Maher, was found in a remote area lying on her back, her arms at her side. Police believed she had been there for weeks, and upon moving the body discovered that she’d been repeatedly stabbed in the back, legs and chest.
During questioning for the assault on the prostitute, Stano, who fit the profile of the person sought for Maher’s slaying, was asked about the murder victim. Despite having confessed to the assault, Stano would only provide enough information to confirm that he’d previously seen Maher. But with more questioning, Stano broke and began replaying the scene out with the detective, even accompany the detective to the murder scene, and confirming the position of the body.
After returning to the police station, another detective suggested questioning Stano on a missing persons case, that of Toni Van Haddocks, a 26-year-old prostitute who had not been seen for some time. Stano denied any involvement in that case.
On April 15, 1980 a human skull was found in a garden by a Daytona resident, and a search of the area lead to clothing and more bones. Police would determine that these were the remains of Haddocks. Stano was again questioned and despite his first denials, later confessed to the murder, and would soon begin confessing to many more.
In the end, Stano admitted the gruesome murders of over 40 women, and was sentenced to death. After many failed appeals, his execution took place on March 23, 1998.
The death penalty has always been a very touchy subject. Many of its opponents believe that nothing justifies the taking of another person’s life, even if done by the state as a means of punishment. I agree that every life has value, but am personally compelled to ask whose life had more value — the victims that Stano murdered, or Stano himself?
My answer would favor the victims, and therefore I am resolved to believe that giving him any punishment less than what he received — death — would be an injustice to those who were killed by his hands.