Killer and Rapist Singleton Is Sentenced to Die in Florida

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Twenty years after he raped a California teenager, chopped off her forearms and left her naked in a ditch, Lawrence Singleton was sentenced Tuesday to die in Florida's electric chair for the fatal stabbing of a Tampa prostitute in his own living room.

Singleton, 70, showed no emotion as he listened to Judge Bob Anderson Mitcham seal his fate in words laden with undisguised disgust.

"This was an unprovoked, senseless killing of a human being," the judge said of the bloody February 1997 slaying of Roxanne Hayes, 31. "We are living in times worse than Sodom and Gomorrah."

In Los Angeles, about 3,000 miles from the Tampa courtroom where Singleton was sentenced, Mary Bell Vincent, now 35, appeared at a press conference to say she was "relieved that justice has been served.

"I didn't want to play God and don't want anyone's death on my hands," said Vincent, who is fitted with two prosthetic hooks. "But I think there's a little bit of relief. I think I can start all over and put everything behind me and hopefully be safe and happy."

Six weeks ago, Vincent flew to Tampa from her home in the Pacific Northwest to testify in the penalty phase of Singleton's murder trial. From the witness stand she pointed a gleaming metal hook at Singleton and offered a brief, haunting account of what happened in 1978, when she was 15, after she got into his van while hitchhiking in Berkeley.

"I was attacked," she said. "I was raped and my hands were cut off."

How? she was asked.

"He used a hatchet."

Singleton, a onetime merchant seaman, was convicted of seven felonies in connection with his assault on Vincent, including attempted murder, rape, kidnapping, oral sodomy and mayhem. He was sentenced to 11 years in prison, the maximum then possible under California law, and served a little more than eight years before he was freed.

Singleton's release from prison was met with such an outcry that he was forced to move from community to community before finally serving out his parole in a rented trailer on the grounds of San Quentin Prison. Public outrage over his release prompted California legislators to pass tougher sentencing laws.

Singleton had lived quietly in his native Tampa for several years before police were called to his house on Feb. 19, 1997. A house painter testified at the trial that he peered in the front window of Singleton's home and saw a naked man repeatedly plunging a boning knife into a woman as she lay sprawled on the couch.

Singleton testified that he had picked up Hayes, the mother of three children, on a Tampa street after agreeing to pay her $20 for sex. When she tried to take more from his wallet, he said, he accidentally stabbed her--seven times--as he tried to stop her.

A jury took four hours to find him guilty of first-degree murder last February and just one hour to recommend that he be sentenced to death.

Mitcham was not bound by the jury's recommendation. And Hayes' longtime boyfriend, Clifford Tyson, the father of two of her children, said he did not favor Singleton's execution.

"She was a human being," Tyson said Tuesday. "But as long as he was in prison for life, that would have been enough for me."

Mitcham said that, although Singleton was depressed and alcoholic, his deed warranted a seat in "Old Sparky," Florida's notoriously unpredictable electric chair. Four people have been electrocuted in it this year.

"Roxanne Hayes fought for her life," said the judge. "She literally clawed for her life. She was acutely aware of her impending death."

Vincent, who is divorced, the mother of two sons, ages 9 and 11, and jobless, said she would like to work with children to warn them about the dangers of hitchhiking. She has never held a paying job.

Vincent's attorney, Mark E. Edwards of Santa Ana, said in a telephone interview that donations from people touched by Vincent's ordeal--recounted often in the last year after Singleton jumped back into the news--have allowed his client to make down payments on a house and a car.

"People have been generous. But she's lost public assistance now and that has her worried," he said.

Edwards said Vincent traveled to Los Angeles because she wanted to make a public statement when Singleton was sentenced. She planned to return home after spending several days with Edwards and his family, the lawyer said.

Asked at the press conference how she got through the last 20 years, she said: "My children. Life. I love life. I really love life."

Although painfully shy, she also managed a joke, reporting that on her trip to Los Angeles, the airline lost some of her luggage, including bags that contained a second set of artificial arms.

"Half of me," she said, 'is somewhere else."

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