STARKE, FL — On May 29, 2013, 56-year-old Elmer Leon Carroll paid the ultimate price for the rape and murder of Christine McGowen. The state of Florida put him to death by means of lethal injection.
As executions go, the specifics of this one seemed unremarkable. The prisoner ate a last meal of bacon and eggs, was led to the death chamber at 6 P.M., and got strapped to a gurney. Carroll was then administered the poison and expired without incident.
What did stir controversy was the especially loathsome nature of Carroll’s crime and the fact that he got to live another 22 years after committing it — more than twice the length of time his victim was alive at all.
Christine McGowen was just 10 years old when Carroll, a previously convicted child molester, snuck in to her bedroom, where he violently raped and fatally strangled the little girl on October 30, 1990.
The next morning, Robert Rank, Christine’s stepfather, tried to rouse the child for school and discovered she was dead. He then saw that the family home’s back door was open and his truck was missing. Julie McGowen, Christine’s mother, was at work at the time.
Shortly after authorities were notified, patrolmen spotted Rank’s truck and pulled it over. Carroll was driving. His sweatshirt and genitals were soaked in blood. Later on, his hair, saliva, and semen would be discovered on Christine’s body.Related: VIDEO — Chilling Moment Pedophile Lures Children Away Before Attacking Them
Elmer Carroll had easy access to Christine, as he resided at the Lighthouse Mission, a halfway house for homeless men located right next door to the McGowen home in Apopka, Florida. He earned money by making model ships out of twine and polished wood.
Another man who lived at the Lighthouse said he’d previously seen Carroll interact with Christine. He described the child as, “cute, sweet, and [she] liked to watch him make boats.”
In 1976, police arrested Carroll for committing a lewd act in front of a minor. He served six months. Cops popped Carroll again in 1982, this time for fondling a child under 15. He served half of a 15-year sentence.
Carroll got out of jail just six months before he killed Christine.
During Carroll’s trial, his lawyers pleaded insanity, citing his congenital brain damage and his long history of mental illness. The strategy didn’t work in court, but it proved compelling enough during multiple appeals to prolong Carroll’s trip to the death chamber for decades.Over the course of his 22 years on death row, authorities wrote up Carroll more than 20 times, citing infractions that included attempted arson, possession of contraband, and making an array of threats.
Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court rejected a final motion for a stay of execution, and Carroll’s final exit was scheduled. Upon hearing the news, Carroll promised to “rise from the grave” and exact revenge on Orange-Osceola State Attorney Jeff Ashton, one of his prosecutors.
On the occasion of Carroll’s execution, Ashton said, “For me, it’s completion. It’s justice being carried out.”
Julie McGowen told the press, “Thank you to all that have worked so hard [to achieve] justice for all — namely, Christine McGowen. Rest in peace.”
Elmer Carroll declined to make a final statement, apparently mustering the decency to at least keep his mouth shut on the way out.
Main photo: Elmer Carroll, 2013 prison mug shot [Florida Department of Corrections]