Rapist who cut off arms of hitchhiker dies in jail

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TAMPA — Lawrence Singleton, who chopped off a teenage hitchhiker's forearms in California and later was sent to death row in Florida for killing a prostitute, has died of cancer behind bars. He was 74.

In 1978, Singleton, who died Friday, raped 15-year-old Mary Vincent, cut off her forearms with an ax and left her to die. The next morning, she stumbled down a road and, with her arms aloft to stop the bleeding, flagged help.

As Vincent, who survived to testify, left the witness stand, he swore some day he'd "finish the job."

In a decision that caused a furor in California, the retired merchant-marine seaman was paroled in 1987 after serving eight years.

Outraged California communities refused to accept him, and authorities housed him in a mobile home at San Quentin Prison until his parole was up in 1988.

While Vincent, a former Tacoma resident, went into hiding, Singleton's release prompted changes in California law that meant longer sentences for violent criminals.

Singleton eventually moved to Tampa, where he had spent his childhood. A jury in Florida convicted him of murder for stabbing to death 31-year-old Roxanne Hayes at his Tampa home in 1997.

Vincent, who was fitted with prosthetic arms, came out of hiding to testify in the death-penalty phase of Singleton's trial. It was a tough decision for Vincent, who was haunted by the attack but morally opposes capital punishment and felt her attacker's life should be spared.

Singleton had been on death row since 1997, but no execution date had been set.

Vincent, who lives in California, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Having given up hope of seeing any of a $2.56 million judgment she won against the destitute Singleton, Vincent lived on and off welfare for years.

Information from Knight Ridder Newspapers is included in this report.