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‘Black Widow’ To Go to the Chair

February 9, 1998 GMT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ She poisoned her husband with arsenic, drowned her paralyzed son and tried to blow up her fiance with a car bomb. Another boyfriend mysteriously died.

It’s no wonder that Judy Buenoano is called the ``Black Widow.″

``When I was asking the judge in the drowning case to admit the other killings (as evidence), I said `Judge ... she’s like a black widow _ she feeds off her mates and her young,‴ prosecutor Russell Edgar said.

Ms. Buenoano, a 54-year-old former nail salon owner, is scheduled to die in Florida’s electric chair March 30. Her death would come weeks after Karla Faye Tucker of Texas became the second woman executed in the United States since the Supreme Court allowed executions to resume in 1976.

Ms. Tucker’s lethal injection drew worldwide attention, including pleas from the pope for clemency, because of her behind-bars religious conversion. There has been no similar outcry for Ms. Buenoano, described as one of the most infamous women in Florida’s prison system.

Ms. Buenoano’s daughter believes she is innocent, but concedes little has changed about her mother since she went to prison more than a decade ago.

``Even now she is the same,″ said Kimberly Hawkins. ``I love her letters. They cheer me up.″

Investigators first became suspicious of Ms. Buenoano in 1983, after her fiance, John Gentry, survived a car bombing in downtown Pensacola. Gentry, who met Ms. Buenoano at a mud-wrestling match in the early 1980s, told police she had also given him pills that made him sick. She told Gentry they were vitamins.

That was the key to uncovering the other crimes in Ms. Buenoano’s past, Edgar said.

Investigators had plenty to find _ including the crime that sent her to death row, the murder of Air Force Sgt. James Goodyear.

Goodyear died in 1971 of arsenic poisoning three months after he returned to Orlando from a year’s tour in Vietnam and nine years after he married the former cocktail waitress.

Ms. Buenoano collected $85,000 in life insurance and veteran benefits after Goodyear died.

In each of the three cases _ that of her husband, her son and her fiance _ she received or stood to collect insurance benefits, Edgar said.

A year before being sent to death row in 1985, Ms. Buenoano was convicted of the 1980 drowning of Michael Goodyear, the son she had as a teen-ager before she met the Air Force sergeant.

Michael, 19, partially paralyzed and wearing leg and arm braces, was pushed out of a canoe into a river by his mother.

Edgar said evidence also suggests Ms. Buenoano poisoned boyfriend Bobby Joe Morris in Trinidad, Colo., in 1978. Colorado prosecutors decided not to file murder charges after she got the death sentence in Florida.

The last known execution of a woman in Florida occurred in 1848, when a freed slave was hanged in Jacksonville for the murder of her master.

Mrs. Hawkins said her mother would rather die than live her life in the Broward Correctional Institution just north of Miami, where the six women sentenced to death in Florida are housed.

``She’s not scared because it’s like she said, she goes to a better place,″ said Mrs. Hawkins, 30. ``Because where she’s at now is not fun.″

Ms. Buenoano was born in 1943 in Quanah, Texas, a little town 200 miles northwest of Dallas. Her mother died when she was 4, and Ms. Buenoano spent her early years passed among relatives and foster families in Texas and Oklahoma.

She told a federal judge during a 1990 hearing that she was sexually abused in some homes, physically abused in others and many times went hungry.

At age 10, she lived in Roswell, N.M., with her father and new wife whom she said beat her. She got pregnant at 17 and gave birth to Michael in March 1961. A few months later she met Goodyear.

Now, as she waits for her execution, she spends her time reading and knitting blankets and baby clothes that she gives to her daughter to sell.

Ms. Buenoano’s best hope to avoid becoming the next woman scheduled to be executed may rely on Florida’s means of death.

During Florida’s last electrocution a year ago, a foot-long flame shot out from the headpiece worn by the inmate, Pedro Medina. The state Supreme Court upheld use of the electric chair last fall, but a federal judge scheduled a hearing on the constitutionality of the chair later this month.