On September 9th, 1982, Florida governor Bob Graham signed death warrants authorizing the executions of Freddie Lee Hall and Mark Ruffin, Jr. (Current information on these and other felons incarcerated by the Department of Corrections can be found by going to http://www.dc.state.fl.us/activeinmates/). Both had been found guilty in the murder of Hernando County Deputy Lonnie C. Coburn and Karol Lea Hurst, a twenty-one year old, seven month pregnant woman from Leesburg, Florida. That was when all thought that closure to this case would occur. But the case kept bouncing through the courts.
The Florida Commission on Capital Cases gives the current status of inmates such as Freddie Lee Hall who are on death row. Since the time of Governor Graham signing the death warrants Hall has had his death sentence temporarily vacated by the Florida Supreme Court on September 9, 1989, after which it was reinstated by a jury on February 21, 1991. This time the Florida Supreme Court accepted the jury's recommendation (January 14, 1993).
Then it went to the federal courts. In 1993 a petition was submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court who refused to hear the case. From there it was sent back to the state courts where the Florida Supreme Court received an appeal in 1997, that they denied it in 1999. Another petition was filed with them in 2000 but the state Supreme Court again denied it, this time in August of 2001. But there were still federal appeals that could be made.
Currently the U.S. Circuit is hearing arguments against the death sentence, based on motions filed in 2001 and 2004.
Ruffin's sentence has been changed to life in prison.
Hernando County Sheriff's Deputy Lonnie C. Coburn
It was 1977 and there had been convenience store robberies in Pasco and Sumter Counties. Ridge Manor, a small community in eastern Hernando County, had one convenience store, a Shop 'n Go located on the northwestern corner at the intersection of U.S. 301 and state highway 50. Sergeant Jeff Duval, a deputy with the Hernando County Sheriff Department, was in charge of the Ridge Manor substation, and had posted stakeouts at the Shop 'n Go, since it seemed likely that the pair committing these robberies might strike this store too. As he recalled, Hall and Ruffin did enter the store one time, but something scared them off, so after a few weeks the stakeout was cancelled.
February 21, 1978, was a cool day and for the last few nights the temperature had fallen into the 40's. Tonight would be much colder on Hernando County's east side. Sgt. Duval was wrapping up his day shift in Ridge Manor when he heard from Deputy Lonnie Coburn, who was to cover the Ridge Manor area this evening. Coburn had hurt his ankle that morning and was running a little late, so Duval waited around until Coburn came on duty. Often the two met during their work days, as they were good friends, but not this day.
Coburn, then twenty-five years old, was, like Sgt Duval and some others in the Sheriff's Dept, a local who had graduated from Hernando High School. He had been an ambulance driver and later a fireman. Coburn had told Duval that he wanted to be a deputy so Duval worked with him to achieve that goal. As deputy, Coburn was a hard worker, often involved in stakeouts either alone or with Deputy Jerry Jennings, among others. Once during a solo stakeout he intercepted a DC3 drug plane at the local airport, causing the capture of the crew and the dealers. Other deputies were soon calling Coburn and Jennings Hernando County's Starsky and Hutch, after the televison series of the same name. Coburn was more Starsky and Jennings more Hutch. Events would turn tragic on February 21, 1978.
It was early afternoon and Freddie Lee Hall and Mack Ruffin, Jr. needed a getaway car. They were in Leesburg at the Pantry Pride grocery store when Karol Hurst, twenty-one years old and seven months pregnant, returned to her car. Hall forced her into the car that Ruffin was driving, while he commandeered her 1975 Plymouth. They drove both vehicles to a remote area near Webster where Hurst was beaten, raped, and murdered by a shot to the head. Hall and Ruffin took her car to the Ridge Manor Shop 'n Go. Deputy Leonard (Nig) Mills usually patrolled the Ridge Manor area, but having recently been sidelined after a medical condition, he was assigned to dispatch at the Ridge Manor substation. His wife, Vivian, happened to stop by the Shop 'n Go for bread and milk and discovered the robbery in progress. She jumped in her car, drove across the street to the substation, and informed her husband and Deputy Coburn of the situation. Immediately, Deputy Coburn called for backup and drove his vehicle behind the store, where he parked it. He confronted them at the side of the building as they ran from the store. While holding a shotgun at them, he led them to his patrol car, and found a pistol on them. At this time witnesses say the other suspect jumped him, and then the other joined in, grabbing his pistol and shooting him in the side, where the bullet-proof vest he was wearing offered no protection.
Coburn was able to radio in, "Nig, I've been shot!", while Hall and Ruffin made their escape in the stolen Plymouth. Word went out to surrounding law enforcement offices and the chase began. Pasco County Deputy Michael Janes found and pursued them through northwestern Pasco County where he was shot at by the murderers. When their car flipped, Hall and Ruffin fled by foot. Hall was captured by State Trooper Peters in Dade City around 3:00 AM the following morning. Ninety minutes later Ruffin was caught by Pasco Deputies Buddy Newsome and Boyd Newsome. Sadly, Deputy Coburn had died at 9:00 PM the previous evening, three hours after the confrontation. Hutch had lost Starsky.
Deputy Duval later worked at Sumter County, finishing his career in Gulf County, where he had been third in command. Over the years he remembered other law enforcement officers who had been killed on the job. One he remembered vividly, having arrived shortly after the shooting with Deputy Cliff Batten, was Trooper Ronald Smith, who was killed in Citrus County in 1973. He also remembered two others he had worked with who had been killed in a plane crash while searching for suspects in St. Johns County, Trooper Merle J. Cook and Trooper Robert L. Pruitt.
After retirement Duval returned to Hernando County. Visiting the cemetery where Deputy Coburn was buried, Duval realized that Coburn's actions and murder were a forgotten memory, with a road and a county park bearing his name seeming to be his final tribute. And it made him very angry that one killer was sitting in prison for life, while the other waited patiently on death row for his appeals to slowly drag through the justice system. The Department of Corrections estimates the average cost per prisoner at over $19,000 per year.Duval enlisted the help of his friend and former coworker, retired deputy Jerry Jennings, to setup the first Deputy Lonnie Coburn Memorial Bike Ride. It's success in raising the attention of the public has led to the creation of the American People Against Cop Killers (APACK). Our goal is to remind people of the supreme sacrifice made by some Florida law enforcement officers and to demand severe punishment to those who perpetrate these crimes. While Duval, Jennings, and Coburn's family, still waits for Hall to be executed, we wonder why it has taken so long and whether people will forget the danger that criminals like this pose to the public in general.
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