Retired Pinellas Circuit Judge Susan F. Schaeffer, a former chief judge who presided over several high profile cases and was known statewide for her expertise in the death penalty field, died Tuesday.
She was 73.
A lung cancer survivor, Judge Schaeffer found out in January that the cancer had returned and spread to her spine, said Sue Rudd, her partner of 35 years. Judge Schaeffer was in was in hospice care at the time of her death, Rudd said.
"I was with her as well as her stepson, Andrew," she said.
Judge Schaeffer sat on the Pinellas-Pasco Court for 23 years and was chief judge for six years. She was known statewide for her knowledge of the state's death penalty and for her work as chairwoman of the Trial Court Budget Commission. She was a former finalist for the Florida Supreme Court.
One of her highest profile cases came in 1994, when she presided over the trial and sentencing of Oba Chandler, who in 1989 murdered Joan Rogers and daughters Michelle and Christe. The Ohio family was visiting Florida when they were found in Tampa Bay, tied to concrete blocks.
Judge Schaeffer sentenced Chandler to death and he was executed by lethal injection in 2011. She would later describe him as "probably the vilest, most evil defendant I ever handled."
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Judge Schaeffer was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2004 and retired at the end of that year. The St. Petersburg resident had a "12 wonderful years of retirement," Rudd said, playing golf, playing piano, making stained glass and relaxing in the North Carolina mountains.
Even in retirement, though, Judge Schaeffer enjoyed sharing stories about her longtime career in the justice system, Rudd said.
"I always felt like she was defined by her profession," Rudd said. "I think it was everything to her."
Rudd was working Tuesday on funeral arrangements