RAIFORD, Fla. – Gary Ray Bowles, a serial killer who preyed on older gay men during an eight-month spree that left six dead, was executed by lethal injection Thursday at Florida State Prison.
The sentence was carried out at 10:58 p.m., according to the office of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Bowles did not say anything before his execution, but said in a handwritten statement dated Thursday that he was sorry for his actions.
"I'm sorry for all the pain and suffering I have caused. I hope my death eases your pain," Bowles wrote. "I want to tell my mother that I am also sorry for my actions. Having to deal with your son being called a monster is terrible. I'm so very sorry. I never wanted this to be my life. You don't wake up one day and decide to become a serial killer."
The execution itself proceeded with nothing unusual happening, other than Bowles speaking to himself perhaps in prayer before the procedure was carried out.
Bowles, 57, had been on Death Row since his conviction for the November 1994 murder of Walter Hinton, a 47-year-old Jacksonville Beach man whom Bowles had befriended. Hinton was one of six known victims of the man who came to be known as the "I-95 Killer." That year, a half-dozen men in three states were killed not far from the East Coast's most heavily traveled interstate.
Bowles was eventually convicted of two other murders in Florida, but the Duval County jury is the only one that sentenced him to death.
That sentence for the murder of Hinton (pictured, right) was overturned by the Florida Supreme Court in 1998, saying prosecutors were wrong to introduce evidence of Bowles' homophobia, but a second jury the following year also recommended a death sentence.
Bowles' eight-month homicidal binge started in Daytona Beach in 1994 and ended with his arrest after killing Hinton, who Bowles convicted to take him in.
That was Bowles' method of operation, according to police and prosecutors. Bowles would meet men in gay bars and offer to perform household chores and sex acts in exchange for a place to stay.
After Bowles' arrest in Jacksonville, police say he admitted to the murders of five other gay men -- three in Florida, two in Georgia and one in Maryland.
In every case, the murders were brutally violent and he left the victims with a towel or toilet paper crammed down their throats.
Among Bowles' victims was 37-year-old Albert Morris, of Hilliard.
"He needs to be punished and I think he needs to have his life taken just like he took all these other peoples' lives," Morris' mother told WJXT in 1994 while Bowles was still on the run.
FROM WJXT'S ARCHIVE: Gary Ray Bowles coverage from 1994
Bowles was able to stay one step ahead of police after each murder, leading to him being profiled five times on "America's Most Wanted" and added to the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list. At one point, Bowles said in a television interview how remarkably easy it was to kill someone.
Gary Ray Bowles' killing spree
"It's sadistic in the manner in which he committed these murders," said Bernie de la Rionda, who was an assistant state attorney in Jacksonville at the time. "I just have a basic concept as a prosecutor that there is good and evil in the world, and Mr. Bowles is the classic evil out there, and thank God he was arrested. I am firmly convinced he would have continued to kill if he had not been caught."
Shortly after he was arrested, members of the gay community called for his eventual execution. Bowles was eventually convicted in Morris' murder and sentenced to life in prison. He received the death penalty for Hinton's murder.
De la Rionda was among those scheduled to witness Bowles' execution and said he would be on the front row in the death chamber because Hilton's family members cannot.
"In this case, the victim's sister and the victim's mother are both deceased, and that's part of the tragedy -- that it has taken so long to get where we are at," de la Rionda said. "And so I will be there representing them and Mr. Hinton, I will be there representing the victim."
Several appeals by Bowles' attorneys have been denied, including one to the Florida Supreme Court earlier this week and one to the U.S. Supreme Court Thursday. Opponents of the death penalty, including Ingrid Delgado, hoped the governor would stay the execution.
"Gary Bowles was a victim of crime and then became a perpetrator of crime, but we don't have to continue perpetuating that cycle of violence," Delgado said. "Society can continue to be kept safe through lifelong incarceration."
Just after 3 p.m., prison officials said Bowles was in good spirits and had a last meal of three cheeseburgers, French fries and bacon. No family members or spiritual advisor visited Bowles on Thursday. His last visitor was his attorney.
Bowles' execution was the 99th in Florida since the state resumed capital punishment more than 40 years ago. As of Thursday afternoon, there are 339 men and three women on death row in Florida.