Judy Buenoano filled 13 years on death row writing letters and crocheting blankets and baby clothes. As the clock ticks down to her execution Monday, she waits in a cell a few feet from the electric chair.
She seems a paradox: either a doting mother or a ruthless “black widow” who drowned her 19-year-old paraplegic son, poisoned her husband with arsenic and tried to kill her fiance - first with pills, then a car bomb. She might even have been the cause of her son’s paralysis, and is suspected in yet another poisoning death.
If her execution is carried out - on what would have been her son’s 37th birthday - Buenoano, 54, will be the first woman executed in Florida since 1848, when a freed slave was hanged for killing her master.
Florida executed two killers on successive days last week. Buenoano’s execution was to be followed by the electrocution Tuesday of Daniel Remeta, who killed a convenience store clerk in Ocala and was linked to four other killings in a 1985 rampage that reached into Texas, Arkansas and Kansas.
Pensacola prosecutor Russell Edgar, who gave Buenoano the name that has dogged her to this day, described her as a scheming, cold-blooded killer.
“She’s like a black widow - she feeds off her mates and her young,” Edgar said last week, repeating comments he made at her trial for her son’s 1980 drowning.
She collected about $240,000 in insurance money from the deaths of her husband, son and a boyfriend in Colorado.
“It does appear the motive was twisted greed,” Edgar said.
Buenoano’s husband of nine years, Air Force Sgt. James Goodyear, was 37 when he died of arsenic poisoning in 1971. That was just three months after he returned from a year’s tour in Vietnam.
Her partially paralyzed son, Michael Goodyear, 19, was wearing leg and arm braces when his mother pushed him out of a canoe in the East River near Pensacola in 1980.
But suspicions weren’t aroused until after a 1983 car bombing in downtown Pensacola. Her fiance, John Gentry, survived the bombing and told detectives she had given him “vitamins” that made him sick.
She was sentenced to 12 years for the bombing, and Gentry’s tale started investigators on the path that led to discovery of her other crimes.
In 1984, Buenoano was convicted of killing her son and sentenced to life. And the next year, she was convicted of killing her husband and condemned to death.
On top of those convictions, she was suspected but never charged in the 1978 arsenic death of Bobby Joe Morris, a boyfriend in Trinidad, Colo.
She continues to deny any role in the deaths of Morris and her husband. And in television interviews in the past week, Buenoano said her son’s death was a terrible accident, not murder.
“I suffered over it and I feel responsible for his death. … It was an accident,” she told NBC.
Edgar said she gave four different versions of how Michael died: a snake fell into their canoe and it overturned; the canoe hit a log; he was decapitated by a boat propeller; he died as a result of Army chemical warfare.
“It wasn’t an accident. The guy was paralyzed,” Edgar said. “He had 15 pounds of braces on his legs without a life jacket. He was taken up the river in a canoe and basically pitched out.”
Authorities also believe she was responsible for more than Michael’s drowning. His crippling illness had developed after he returned home from the Army, and an autopsy eventually found traces of arsenic.
“She put that boy through a lot before she killed him,” said Pensacola detective Ted Chamberlain. “She poisoned him to make him paraplegic. And then the guy ain’t home from the hospital for 24 hours before she drowns him.”
Chamberlain plans to witness the execution. “A person this cruel really needs to get what she deserves,” he said.
The Florida Supreme Court last week dismissed Buenoano’s appeal.
“If they would allow me, I would pull the switch myself,” bombing survivor Gentry told Fox News. “There are people that are so evil that they really don’t need to be amongst civilized people. She preyed upon people that loved her.”
But Buenoano’s daughter, Kimberly Hawkins, 30, a waitress in Navarre, steadfastly believes in her innocence.
“She did things with us,” she has told The Associated Press. “She worked a lot … but she always made time for us.”
Only two women have been executed in the United States since the U.S. Supreme Court lifted its ban on capital punishment in 1976. North Carolina executed Velma Barfield in 1984 for poisoning her boyfriend; Texas executed Karla Faye Tucker on Feb. 3 for hacking a man and woman to death with a pickax. Barfield and Tucker died by injection.