The way we were: Orange County Case 5611

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“This is where guys get their butts kicked. I’m going to do it, I’m going to do it,” mumbled a man pacing outside of a courtroom at the Orange County Courthouse. Draped in a camouflaged jacket and visibly sweating, he had badgered the County Clerk staff for months with habitual visits. He would request to see his disorderly conduct arrest record, would leaf through it briefly, and abruptly leave the courthouse. According to a January 11, 1984 Orlando Sentinel article, he came in so often they began referring to him only by his case number: 5611.

Orange County Courthouse Circa 1984. (Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

Despite his disheveled appearance, distraught demeanor, and oversized bag, only minor entrance security existed in 1984. Without metal detectors and mandatory security checks, 5611 walked right up to the fourth floor courtroom for his disorderly conduct arrest hearing on January 10, 1984.

According to Judy Bourgeois, a courthouse deputy interviewed by the History Center, “Judge Conser was weary of him being in there and holding his satchel and he wanted to know what was in it.” Deputy Harry Dalton instructed 5611 to leave the bag outside of the courtroom.  He complied, but when he returned he had hidden three weapons inside his jacket. Bourgeois explained that Judge Conser noticed the added bulk and advised the deputy to take the accused “…outside and check him out, and that’s when he shot Harry.”

Dalton was shot with a .38 revolver. An unarmed corrections officer, Mark Parker, wrestled with the gunman briefly before he ran outside to call for help and was shot in the back.  Deputy Arnie Wilkerson ran in with his gun drawn where 5611 fatally shot him with a sawed-off shotgun. The rampage only ended when Deputies Kinzler and Jacobs managed to pin him down in a side office, shot, and arrested him.

Thomas Henry Provenzano was charged with the first-degree murder of Deputy Wilkerson and first-degree attempted murders of both Deputy Dalton and Mark Parker. He was convicted of all charges and sentenced to death July 1984. Though both Dalton and Parker survived, they died from complications of those injuries in 1991 and 2009, respectively.  Unfortunately, not unlike today’s mass shootings, the Provenzano case was quickly eclipsed by another mass murder that summer. In San Ysidro, California, a gunman killed 21 in a horrifying two-hour-long showdown inside of a McDonald’s.

Judy Bourgeois (left) and Deputy J.R. Knighter (right) standing in front of the Orange County Courthouse memorial plaque on January 10th, 1985, the one year remembrance of the shooting. (Photo courtesy of Orange County Regional History Center)

After exhausting all appeals, in June 1999, Governor Jeb Bush signed an execution warrant for Provenzano with a scheduled execution the next month. Provenzano claimed insanity and stated that he was, in fact, Jesus Christ. After a three-person panel psychological review deemed him sane, his execution was carried out on June 21, 2000. An annual police ceremony memorializes those who were murdered.

The shooting in Orlando led to a strengthening of Orange County Courthouse security, while the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Building transformed governmental building security nationwide. Acts of mass violence and the resulting necessary memorialization remain a hauntingly familiar trend in 2016, 2017, and already 2018.

Dan Bradfield is the One Orlando Oral Historian at the Orange County Regional History Center.

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