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Michelle Herndon (24) was murdered by a trained anesthesia nurse
Published: Oct 15, 2008 @ 10:55 PM
Michelle Herndon (24)
Nov 08, 2005
Cause of Death:
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Oliver Travis O'Quinn, a former Shands nurse, was sentenced to life in prison without parole late Friday afternoon for the murder of 24-year-old Michelle Herndon in 2005.
O'Quinn, who was trained as an anesthesia nurse, was found guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of Herndon in her Gainesville home by injecting her with a fatal dose of propofol, a fast-acting anesthetic.
Before pronouncing sentence, Judge Peter Seig spoke briefly to O'Quinn.
"It is beyond my comprehension how an intelligent mind could conceive of what we've heard about this week," he told the defendant.
"In this case, you executed Michelle Herndon, and tonight (after the sentencing) I know I will sleep soundly."
In his closing summary, Assistant State Attorney Tim Browning told the jury that a drug which is used to put someone to sleep was used to put Herndon to death.
Police found Herndon lying dead across her bed. The discovery of a small puncture wound in her arm led to the discovery of a lethal dose of propofol in her system.
Herndon knew O'Quinn, who was sharing a house with one of her good friends. For Herndon, the friendship was apparently casual, but O'Quinn was characterized in court testimony as being obsessed with the young woman from Live Oak.
"For Michelle Herndon, death had a familiar face," Browning said. When O'Quinn knocked at her door the evening of Nov. 8, 2005, Browning told jurors, she willingly let him in.
O'Quinn's DNA was found on the needle cover of a syringe discarded behind Herndon's house, and her blood was in the syringe. Herndon's body wasn't discovered until Nov. 10, when her boyfriend in South Florida became concerned that he hadn't heard from her.
As the prosecutor described the events surrounding her death, he said O'Quinn cleaned up after himself in the house, leaving Herndon on the bed with her face in a pillow. He went out the back door, locking it as he went, and put the syringe and other medical gear in a Publix bag which he left by the trash bins some 60 feet away. Then he drove off.
On Nov. 29, O'Quinn headed to Dublin, Ireland, telling family members he was taking a vacation. Once in Ireland, however, he applied for employment as a nurse.
In a move the prosecution described as a flight from justice, he then moved on to Dakar, Senegal. He was brought back from West Africa in handcuffs in October 2006.
Assistant Public Defender Drew McGill told jurors the state had built a case of "probabilities, not dead-bang proof."
The case went to the jury about noon Friday. By 3 p.m., jurors returned to the courtroom with their guilty verdict.
Before sentencing, Herndon's family members and close friends entered victims' impact statements describing the effect O'Quinn's crime has had on their lives.
Belinda Herndon spoke for herself and her husband of 30 years, Donald, who she said could not bring himself to be in the same room with O'Quinn.
"I look at you and see a small, small man," she said tearfully while looking directly at the defendant across the courtroom.
"I hope you never feel the pain and devastation that her dad and I do every day, because Michelle is no longer here."
O'Quinn watched without emotion from the defendant's table, his fingers steepled.
Shortly after the parade of Michelle's family and friends finished speaking, deputies helped the shackled defendant to his feet.
He was fingerprinted and, without a statement, was taken from the courtroom to begin serving his sentence.
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