Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Defending Oneself in Court

Killer Counsel

Ted Bundy
Ted Bundy

Ted Bundy was caught in Florida in 1978, speeding in a stolen Volkswagen. The police soon discovered that he was wanted in connection with murders over the past four years in Washington, Oregon, Utah, and Colorado. Indeed, he had escaped from Colorado as he was preparing for his trial. But in Florida, he was fingered by witnesses for several attacks and three murders, so he was held there for trial.

On January 15, 1978, Lisa Levy and Martha Bowman were attacked in their sorority house at Florida State University. An eyewitness claimed that Bundy had clubbed and raped the girls, clubbed another woman in the head, and then fled. He also managed to viciously attack a girl in another sorority house that same night. Then, less than a month later, a 12-year-old girl, Kimberly Leach, was abducted from her school. Her body was found in the woods under a tarp. Bundy was charged with this murder as well. As his first trial approached, he learned that the key evidence against him was his own bite mark on Lisa Levy.

Lisa Levy (l) & Margaret Bowman
Lisa Levy (l) & Margaret Bowman

In both cases, Bundy originally asked to have Millard Farmer, a lawyer from Georgia, defend his case pro hac vice (a special stipulation for attorneys who practice in a different state). His motion was twice denied. Bundy then requested to appear pro se. The transcript of the Leach case indicates that the judge asked Bundy what education he had, and Bundy replied with: "I have a Bachelor of Science in psychology from the University of Washington and two years of law school. I think." He referred the court to Faretta, and said, "I don't really think that an inquiry into my background, beyond my stating that I knowingly and voluntarily and understandingly take this step, is necessary." The motion to proceed pro se was approved.

During the trial for the sorority murders, Bundy put on quite a show. He strutted around and smiled at people in the audience. He acted as co-counsel and was officially part of the defense team. Yet he seemed to incriminate himself when he made the witnesses who found the dead girls, particularly the police officers, testify to every grisly detail of the murder scene. Although he claimed to be showing that the officers could have left their prints in the room, he painted a grisly picture for the jurors. Jurors later said that he seemed to relish hearing about the murders, as if he was reliving them. It surprised no one that he was eventually found guilty and sentenced to death.

Bite marks, Bundy, trial evidence
Bite marks, Bundy, trial evidence

Next came the trial for the Leach murder in Orlando. More desperate now, and less confident, Bundy showed a completely different side of himself. He had gained weight and lost patience. He snapped at anyone who irritated him, including the court stenographer. He switched from being calm and rational to slamming his hand down on the judge's desk and attempting to storm out of the courtroom. Then he tried to look frustrated, saying to standby counsel within the jury's earshot, "It's no use. We've lost the jury. There's no point in playing their game." The jury was not fooled and found him guilty of the murder.

In a bizarre twist, during the sentencing phase, Bundy put girlfriend Carol Ann Boone on the stand and asked her to marry him (an arrangement they had made ahead of time). She said yes, and Bundy cited an old Florida law that declares a couple married if they take their vows under oath. So even with the third death sentence hanging over him, he became a married man.

Ted Bundy in court
Ted Bundy in court

Bundy later tried to claim on appeal that he'd had ineffective assistance of counsel, but the appellate court denied the appeal, saying that Bundy had failed to state any clear failure of counsel to assist in the trial. He also claimed on appeal that he had not been competent to stand trial. The court denied it, stating that Bundy had shown a complete understanding of what was going on around him at all times, making appropriate objections and motions throughout the trial.

After he had been sentenced to death three times, he began to talk. He eventually confessed to 30 murders in six separate states, dating back to May 1973.

Yet Bundy's and Holmes's failure to see their own shortcomings as attorneys, sometimes arrogant defendants can actually use their skills to some advantage.

 

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