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In Shreveport, victim's friend waits for closure

Rolling is accused in three deaths here but wasn't prosecuted.

By VANESSA GEZARI
Published October 25, 2006


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Julie Grissom was 24, with long sandy-brown hair and green eyes. She was stabbed to death one November evening 17 years ago in the house where she grew up, along with her father, Tom Grissom, and her 8-year-old nephew, Sean.

No one was charged with the murders in Shreveport, La., but investigators think Danny Rolling committed them. Shreveport police closed the case in the spring of 1994, when it seemed likely that Rolling would be sentenced to death for the Gainesville killings of Sonja Larson, Manuel Taboada, Tracy Paules, Christina Powell and Christa Hoyt.

"We all know he can only die once," Caddo Parish District Attorney Paul Carmouche said then.

Karen Martinez, 41, was one of Julie Grissom's closest friends.

"The ultimate thing would be for him to say, 'Yeah, I did this,' and try to give some statement about it," Karen said. "But from a person with that kind of mind, that doesn't really mean a whole lot either. You can't make sense out of something that is senseless, although you try."

The day Julie died, Karen stopped by Dillard's, where Julie worked. They were going in together on a gift certificate for a friend who was getting married that night. Julie said she was tired and didn't know if she would make it to the wedding. Karen hugged her.

After several years at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Julie had come home to Shreveport to work, finish school and save money. That Saturday afternoon, Tom Grissom was cooking hamburgers on a propane grill. The TV was on.

Police think Rolling entered the house sometime after 6 p.m. He had been fired that day from his job at a Mexican restaurant.

He killed Tom and Sean, then stabbed Julie three times and turned her on her back to hide the wounds.

Police were called to the house two days later, when Sean didn't show up for school and neighbors found Tom's body. The propane had burned out on the grill and the burgers were charred black. Julie's body had been cleaned and sexually assaulted. She lay on a bed, her hair fanned out around her head.

The image stuck with Don Ashley, a retired Shreveport detective who worked on the case. He remembered it when he saw a photo of one of Rolling's Gainesville victims in a similar pose. "That's when we knew we had a link," Ashley said.

Rolling had grown up in Shreveport, but he left town after shooting and injuring his father in 1990. After the Gainesville killings, Louisiana police helped Florida detectives piece together details about him, but the case against him was always stronger in Florida, Ashley said. Primitive DNA technology wasn't enough to link him to the Grissom murders, although his blood type matched saliva found on Julie's body. Police found her clothes, which might have borne traces of Rolling's semen, in the washing machine. He left no fingerprints.

Later, Rolling would talk about the killing with cell mates and others, Ashley said. He drew a map of the pond where he said he threw away the knife. Police never found the weapon.

"He is the guy," Ashley said. "No doubt in my mind."

As Rolling's execution drew near, Karen Martinez wondered how to describe her best friend to people who never knew Julie - people who might not even know that Julie had been killed. Rolling's Florida killings drew so much more attention.

She had known Julie since she was 5. They grew up in a quiet neighborhood of three-bedroom, two-bath houses where everyone knew everyone else. There was a church behind Julie's house, and a vacant field where Karen and Julie played. It would have been easy for someone to slip into Julie's back yard, but they didn't worry about that.

They swam together at a community pool, ate pizza, threw slumber parties, made prank calls. They snuck out at night to toilet paper trees outside the houses of guys they liked.

At Southwood High School, they joined the dance team, performing in silver and blue uniforms at halftime. Julie was a member of the homecoming court. They carpooled to school together.

Julie had great style. When they picked her up for school in the morning, she would climb into the car in a cloud of hairspray, the can still in her hand. Karen borrowed her clothes. She wore Julie's prom dress to her own senior prom.

Julie was a sweet girl with a soft voice, but she had a strong will. When her underage friends snuck glasses of grocery store champagne, Julie didn't take part. She went away to college and joined a sorority, while Karen stayed close to home. She studied marketing. She died before she could accept her degree. "We had to attend her graduation without her," Karen said.

After the murders, Julie's mother, Karen and other friends cleaned the house, scrubbing fingerprint dust from the walls. They packed up Julie's things.

Karen wore Julie's pearl earrings at her wedding. She has some of Julie's white dishes with burgundy flowers, and two of Julie's wineglasses. She is very careful with them.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Vanessa Gezari can be reached at vgezari@sptimes.com or 727 893-8803.

[Last modified October 25, 2006, 01:32:38]


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