After the gruesome rape, torture, and murder of his neighbor, a man was finally imprisoned for his heinous crimes. However, thanks to a local judge, he was granted an early release, despite serving less than half of his sentence.
In 1991, the body of a 36-year-old Florida woman was discovered in a field in the Hudson Bayou area of Sarasota, according to The Sarasota Herald-Tribune. John Waterman tightened a drapery cord around her neck and her fingernails had been violently ripped off. Soon after, a 30-year-old single mother was startled from her sleep by a masked intruder who held a knife to her throat before raping her.
In the search for a man who could easily turn into a serial killer, investigators connected the strangulation with a drapery cord and knife to the second victim’s throat to a crime novel called “Postmortem,” which they found on a bookshelf in Waterman’s home. Thanks to incriminating evidence, authorities ultimately tied the rapes and murder to Waterman.
Waterman, who lived next door to his first victim, was sentenced to 45 years in prison for second-degree murder and burglary, 40 years on 4 counts of sexual battery, and 40 years for kidnapping, which he was to serve concurrently. However, instead of languishing in prison as he deserved, a judge decided that he should rejoin society after serving less than half of his appointed time.
After serving just 20 years of his 45-year sentence, the now-54-year-old Waterman was granted an early release for “good behavior” by Judge Frederick Mercurio. The judge reasoned that Waterman had successfully completed a treatment program during his stay in prison and that he was, according to a psychologist, “safe to be released to the community” and “no longer poses a threat.”
“The court finds based on expert opinion of two psychologists that the defendant Mr. Waterman – within a reasonable agree of psychological certainty – no longer meets the criteria to be involuntarily civilly committed as a sexually violent predator.”
Judge Mercurio stated that Waterman no longer meets the description of a convict held under the Jimmy Ryce Act of 1998, which was named after a 9-year-old boy who was kidnapped, raped, murdered, and dismembered by a repeat offender. The judge explained that he was taking the recommendation of two psychologists who testified that Waterman was a reformed rapist and killer.
Locals were outraged that Judge Mercurio decided not to apply a more recent law to Waterman’s incarceration, which requires that inmates serve at least 85 percent of their terms before being eligible for release. Instead, he chose to free Waterman after just 44 percent of his original sentence was completed, cutting his prison time down by 25 years.
“Judges always have discretion. It appeared everyone felt bound by a 2012 stipulation that gave all the discretion to the agreed-upon evaluator, but he is not required to complete the program nor was there a risk assessment,” said Hudson Bayou Neighborhood Association former president Susan Chapman.
Hudson Bayou resident Rebecca Tharpe explained that, although Waterman has plans to move to Orlando, he is still a danger to the community. She added that Waterman didn’t necessarily qualify for early release simply because he completed the program, which was designed by an Ontario-based psychologist.
“They are very frightened. They understand he’s going to Orlando, but they understand he has ties here,” Tharpe said. “And I’m concerned because Dr. Robin Wilson, the doctor who has a very impressive resume, didn’t review the previous doctors report. “The doctors won’t opine on the risk. He’s just met the criteria for the program Wilson developed. It’s like the fox watching the hen house.”
Along with one other doctor, Wilson has concluded that Waterman doesn’t pose a risk to society. However, citizens aren’t so sure. Disturbingly, the only way to know about Waterman’s heinous criminal history is for civilians to seek it out for themselves and pray that he doesn’t move into their neighborhood.