Sondra Gibson said she is no longer the woman described as a mentally ill parent, former prostitute and cult member who tried to solicit a 14-year-old boy for sex in a vampire initiation rite.
TAVARES – Mental health experts testified last week in resentencing hearings that vampire cult leader Rod Ferrell has changed.
While Ferrell, who was convicted of murdering a Eustis couple in 1996, awaits a decision from Circuit Judge G. Richard Singeltary, his mother says she’s changed, too.
Sondra Gibson told the Daily Commercial she is no longer the woman described as a mentally ill parent, former prostitute and cult member who tried to solicit a 14-year-old boy for sex in a vampire initiation rite.
"At first, I was really upset about it," Gibson said of the way she was depicted by defense attorney’s psychologists and a psychiatrist. "I know their job is to help Rod."
But she said she was stung by the testimony of Ferrell’s fiancée and a woman who befriended Ferrell while visiting her husband in prison.
"She barely knows me," she said of the visitor who described her as having the maturity of a 13-year-old.
Gibson also has reservations about the fiancée who testified that her relationship with Ferrell is "beyond romantic." Lezlie Bullard, a teacher in Texas, said she will give Ferrell a home and make sure he has a job.
"There have been a lot of girls," Gibson said of pen pals and visitors. Ferrell was even married to one woman for a time, Gibson said.
"He’s changed so much," Gibson said. "Of course, he’s 39 now. He was 16 at the time."
He has taken many re-entry classes and even taught some courses. He also obtained a wastewater treatment license so he can get a job.
"There’s a lot of positives to look at," Gibson said. "I know he wants to do really well, to be in the right location, to get on with his life. He doesn’t want to hang around with the victims. I’m a lot like that. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that it is very important to live a decent life. You can really make a difference."
Gibson said she has moved back in with her 90-year-old mother so she can take care of her. She said she has a jewelry business, a completely different set of friends where she lives in Belleview, and is looking for a church to attend.
She hopes the recent "bad press" doesn’t change things for her.
After the shocking crime, details emerged about the blood-drinking teen cultists. Residents in Umatilla signed a petition saying they didn’t want Gibson living in their neighborhood.
"The people I associate with now don’t say anything about it," she said.
Her father, Harrell Gibson, has dementia and is confined to a lock-down memory unit in Sarasota.
Psychologists said Ferrell was gang-raped by Harrell’s friends, and that he molested Ferrell. Gibson’s older sister testified during the trial in 1998 that her father had sexually abused both her and Gibson.
Psychologist Heather Holmes testified during the resentencing hearing that Gibson confronted the homeowner where the rape took place, with 5-year-old Ferrell in tow. Gibson thought she was sticking up for her son, but it retraumatized him, Holmes said.
Ferrell made a tearful apology last week to the families of murder victims Richard Wendorf and Ruth Queen. He said their 15-year-old daughter, Heather Wendorf, tricked him into believing that she was being sexually abused by her father. Heather was not present during the hearings. She was cleared by two grand juries.
"Regardless of the outcome of this resentencing, please know just how deeply sorry I am for all the hurt that I have caused," he said. "I’m sorry for all the pain and your loss. I’m sorry for everything."
He said he was a child that turned into a monster, that he was immature and still growing. Still, he said it was no excuse.
Just before the trial in 1998, Gibson said her involvement in vampirism had been "Hollywood idiocy."
During the trial, however, she turned to State Attorney Brad King and a group of reporters during a break and said: "We live forever."
No doubt Ferrell’s apology did little to salve the emotions of Jennifer Wendorf, who cried while testifying about how she came home to find her parents bludgeoned to death and her sister missing. Some family members were seething.
"I didn’t even want to hear his voice or hear what he had to say," said Ruth’s daughter, Sandi Queen.
Singeltary must decide whether Ferrell’s life sentence should be reduced. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that juveniles must not always be given mandatory life sentences. Ferrell initially was sentenced to die in the electric chair. It could take months for the judge to review documents.
One of Ferrell’s codefendants, Howard Scott Anderson, who was in the house with Ferrell, recently had his sentence reduced from life to 40 years. He was 16 at the time, but he did not deliver the flurry of blows with a crowbar.
Two female cult members were sentenced to 10 ½ and 17 ½ years each.