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Supermarket Was Robbed - But Was it by Slayings Suspect?

August 27, 1991

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ A man considered a suspect in the killings of five students in Gainesville one year ago went on trial Tuesday on charges he robbed a grocery store at gunpoint.

Lawyers for Danny Rolling, 37, call it a case of mistaken identity.

In opening arguments, Assistant State Attorney Cass Castillo said the state has a witness who saw the gunman unmasked, and that hair evidence recovered from the mask and fingerprints lifted from the getaway car pin the robbery on Rolling.

″If the case was that simple, we wouldn’t be here,″ responded public defender Mary Lou Cuellar.

She argued that none of the cashiers at the grocery, none of the officers who chased the suspect and none of the customers in the store can positively identify Rolling as the robber.

″They gave a very general description, that he was a tall white male,″ Ms. Cuellar said. ″But beyond that there was a whole range of descriptions. ... Some said he was a person with a limp, that he had a full head of hair, that he wore brown sandals. There is a reasonable doubt here.″

Rolling is charged with robbery, attempted robbery and aggravated assault on law enforcement officers in the holdup of the store a few days after the last bodies were found in Gainesville.

The charges, which carry a possible life sentence, aren’t directly related to the student slayings, but authorities say they are significant because the car Rolling was driving in Tampa was stolen from a Gainesville student housing complex two days after the last bodies were found.

No charges have been filed in the Gainesville killings.

Circuit Judge Harry Lee Coe has asked attorneys not to bring up Rolling’s status as a suspect in the student slayings or even use the word ″Gainesville.″ The trial is expected to last through Thursday.

Five days after the Sept. 2 robbery, Rolling was captured in Ocala following a store robbery. He has pleaded guilty in that case and is awaiting sentencing.

Rolling appeared calm in court. He mouthed the words ″I love you″ to his mother.

Earlier this week, a police affidavit listed evidence that may tie Rolling to a 1989 triple slaying in his hometown of Shreveport, La.

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