Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Defending Oneself in Court

Out of Order

The trial for Douglas Clark began in October 1982, as Louise Farr details in The Sunset Murders. Deputy District Attorney Robert Jorgensen described the proceedings as "an intimate tour of a sewer." Clark was charged in the murders of six women, ages 15 to 24. All were shot in the head with the same gun and three had been sexually assaulted.

Doug Clark
Doug Clark

During part of the trial, Clark served as his own attorney, with court-appointed lawyers Maxwell Keith and Penelope Watson as his legal consultants. During his previous stay in prison, Clark had studied law books and wanted to handle things himself. The judge hesitantly allowed it. Attorney Keith made attempts to get the trial on the right track, but most of his efforts were thwarted by Clark's behaviors. Like many narcissists, he was unable to see how he was coming across.

When a waitress, Donielle Patton, broke down in tears as she described how her fear of him had forced her to move, he made a veiled threat when he told her he knew where she now lived. He seemed unable to resist showing off his sense of power over her. Then Clark turned on the court, calling Judge Ricardo Torres a "gutless worm," among many other vulgar names. Clark quickly got his attorney privileges suspended, and Keith and Watson were ordered to take over.

The chief witness against him, ironically called by the defense at his behest, was Carol Bundy, his partner in crime. She came dressed like a proper housewife and spoke articulately about being under Clark's spell. She talked about how he had brought home the head of one victim and had bragged about committing murders since he was 17 — to the tune of about 47. She claimed she had no recourse but to go along with him.

In the end, Clark had no real case, and he had failed to destroy the prosecution as he had promised. Though he had claimed at every opportunity that the state's attorneys were inept, the prosecution had nevertheless managed to offer a compelling argument that he was a vile sexual predator and serial killer. In addition, Clark's outlandish behavior had failed to win him any friends on the jury. It was certainly easier to believe the prosecutor than to believe a vulgar, arrogant man who showed no respect for the court.

On January 28, after the jury deliberated for five days, Clark was found guilty of six counts of murder and one count of attempted murder. Farr writes that when the verdict was announced, Clark looked at his mother and mouthed, "Hi Mom."

He kept insisting he was innocent, but nevertheless, when he took the stand in his own defense and once again displayed his arrogance, he urged the court to sentence him to die in the gas chamber. They were willing to oblige. On March 16, 1988, Douglas Clark received six death sentences. He currently serves his time at San Quentin.

Some legal experts believe that even if the right to self-representation is preserved, the standards should be higher when a defendant's life is at stake. Let's consider another such case.


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