Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate

Reckoning

From Charlie's perspective, his options were not terribly attractive. He believed that he could go to the gas chamber in Wyoming for the murder of Merle Collison or he could go to the electric chair in Nebraska for his many killings there.  He chose Nebraska and he and Caril were extradited at the end of January 1958. What he didn't know and nobody thought to tell him was that had he stayed in Wyoming, he probably would have received a life sentence. The Wyoming governor was a death penalty opponent.

Caril, meanwhile, maintained that she was a hostage throughout the entire ordeal and that she kept going with Charlie because she feared that he would kill her family if she didn't. The only problem with that story was that she admitted being present for all of the Nebraska murders that included her parents and half-sister. So much for going with Charlie to save her family.

Body of Jensen, shot 6 times in the head
Body of Jensen, shot 6 times in the head

Charlie and Caril were both charged with first degree murder and murder while committing a robbery. Since both were being tried as adults, both faced the prospect of the electric chair. The prosecution chose the murder of Robert Jensen on which to try them since it had the most potential to shock and outrage the jury. Elmer Scheele was the prosecutor.

Charlie's trial began on May 5, 1958. He did nothing to improve his prospects. He maintained that he was completely sane while his lawyers were trying desperately to cobble together the makings of an insanity defense. Nevertheless, his defense lawyers entered a plea of "innocent by reason of insanity." To Charlie and his family, the stigma of being insane was worse that the stigma of being a cold-blooded murderer.

T. Clement Gaughan and William F. Matschullat were appointed by the court to perform the difficult task of defending Charlie. Somehow they had to try to show that Starkweather was completely insane. Whereas, the prosecutor had an easy comparatively easy task: to demonstrate that Charlie was sane when he robbed and killed Jensen.

Initially, Charlie told the authorities that Caril had nothing to do with the crimes. His first words to them on the subject when he was being taken to the jail in Douglas, Wyoming were, "Don't' be rough on the girl. She didn't have a thing to do with it."

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