Dead Man Waiting

Billy Elledge brutally raped and murdered a woman in Hollywood 25 years ago. He has sat in prison since then, evidence that Florida's death penalty isn't working.

In the bathroom of Jeffrey Needle's law office on W. Oakland Park Boulevard is a pencil drawing by Elledge. Needle, now a collections lawyer with a computer screen saver that reads, "Leave cash on the desk or get out of my office," was a certified legal intern at the Broward County Public Defender's office when Elledge came up for resentencing in 1994. Needle did much of the grunt work on the case, interviewing Elledge about his life story and explaining to him the legal technicalities of the upcoming trial. The pencil sketch is a bucolic scene, with trees and homes. But closer inspection reveals one odd characteristic: Everything in the picture is enclosed. The windows of the homes have bars in them, as do the doors. There are numerous fences surrounding the homes. There appears to be no way out. This is the world as seen through Elledge's eyes.

"I think that Bill Elledge, because of his parents, because of the environment he grew up in, had no other way to go," says Needle. "The man was safe only in his mind."

Elledge's mind now appears to be a somewhat cloudy place. He at once offers remorse for what he has done and then doles out blame to everyone but himself. He says of Strack, the 20-year-old whom he raped and strangled to death: "God rest her soul, and I'm sorry for what I've done. But, it doesn't change the facts of the case." Elledge then goes on to recount how Strack is somehow to blame for his actions because she sexually teased him but then refused to have sex. "When this woman come on to me and tried to turn me off like a water tap after I was turned on, I snapped. I don't try to justify my actions. I admitted my guilt. At the same time, I wonder why she did what she did."

I wonder why she did what she did. The dead woman. It's her fault.
Billy Elledge now says he doesn't want to die. He doesn't want a date with Old Sparky. He realizes that, even if his death sentence is somehow lifted, he will spend the rest of his life in orange prison garb.

Elledge believes that he belongs in prison. He claims that all he wants is the ever-present threat of electrocution lifted from his head. "Do I deserve to be let out?" he asks. "No. I'll be the first one to tell you that. Because of what I've done and because no form of rehabilitation has been provided to me. I do not belong on the streets until the problems that put me here are resolved."

Contact Paul Demko at his e-mail address:

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