Executions · Florida · Newspaper clippings

Man executed for the torture and murder of his 9-year-old daughter

September 7, 1984
Florida
Ernest John Dobbert Jr. is executed for the torture and death of his 9-year-old daughter

Dobbert’s father had employed corporal punishment on his children as a means of discipline, a tactic he had learned from his own father. In turn, Dobbert would beat his own children to “keep them in line.” The abuse worsened into torture after Dobbert’s wife Virginia was arrested for writing bad checks to pay for groceries and other essentials.

This torture included holding the hand of his eldest child, Ernest John Dobbert III (who went by his middle name, John), over an open flame for poor grades in school and holding John’s head underwater and forcing him to drink bathwater for not washing his sister’s hair. At one point, John attempted to start an oil heater but filled the house with smoke which burned his eyes. Dobbert said “Your eyes, I’ll show you…” before dragging his knuckles over his son’s eyes. John’s eyes became red and swollen and, within a week, had a white film form over them which did not heal.

John’s sister, Kelly Ann, endured tortures which included her eyes poked, her abdomen beaten until “it was swollen like she was pregnant,” and was beaten with a board and belt “until the body juices came out.” She was eventually choked until she stopped breathing, then was placed in a plastic garbage bag and left in the attic. She was 9 when she died on December 31, 1971. In February of 1972, Ryder (7) also died. He was also placed in a garbage bag and left in a spare room until, as John later stated, “they stank and the maggots got to them.” Dobbert then brought John to a beach to bury the bodies. Though John described the burial location, the bodies were never recovered.

The beginning of the end for Dobbert came in April 1972 when John, 11 at the time, was found wandering the streets nearly blind, with broken bones, and scars on his back which Juvenile Judge Gordon Duncan described as looking “like someone had gone over it with a blow torch.” A few days later, 5-year-old Honore Dobbert wandered into a hospital with a note from her father. She was physically unharmed. Shortly after, Dobbert’s abandoned car with a suicide note was discovered. He was later found alive in Texas, extradited for trial in Florida, and tried for murder.

At trial, Dobbert claimed neither child was murdered, that Kelly Ann had asphyxiated while eating soup and Ryder had died of neglect. (John stated his father had told him Kelly Ann had died of the flu and Ryder of cancer.) Because the majority of the jury could not determine if Dobbert had intended to kill his children, they voted 10-2 in favor of a life sentence. The judge presiding overrode their suggestion, however, and sentenced him to death. According to Mike McQueen of the Associated Press, Dobbert made no final statement but winked at his minister and public defender before he was electrocuted.

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