Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Aileen Wuornos: Killer Who Preyed on Truck Drivers

The Trial

Wuornos's attorneys engineered a plea bargain, to which Wuornos agreed, in which she would plead to six charges and receive six consecutive life terms. One state attorney, however, thought she should receive the death penalty, so on January 14, 1992, Wuornos went to trial for the murder of Richard Mallory. The evidence and witnesses against her were severely damaging. Dr. Arthur Botting, the medical examiner who had autopsied Mallory's body, stated that Mallory had taken between ten and 20 agonizing minutes to die. Tyria Moore testified that Wuornos had not seemed overly upset, nervous or drunk when she told her of killing Mallory. Twelve men told of encounters with her along Florida's highways over the years.

Aileen Wuornos (Youtube)
Aileen Wuornos (Youtube)

Florida has a law known as the Williams Rule that allows evidence relating to other crimes to be admitted if it helps to show a pattern. Because of the Williams Rule, information regarding the other killings was presented to the jury. Wuornos's claim of having killed in self-defense would have been a lot more believable had the jury known only of Mallory. Now, with the jury made aware of all of the murders, self-defense seemed improbable, at best. After the excerpts from her videotaped confession were played, the self-defense claim seemed ridiculous. On the tape Wuornos appeared confident and not at all upset by the story she was telling. She made easy conversation with her interrogators and repeatedly told her public defender to be quiet. Her image spoke from the screen, "I took a life... I am willing to give up my life because I killed people... I deserve to die."

Tricia Jenkins, one of Wuornos's public defenders, did not want her client to testify and told her so. But Wuornos insisted on telling her story. By now, her account of Mallory's killing barely resembled the one she gave in her confession. Mallory had raped and sodomized her, she claimed, and had tortured her. On cross-examination, prosecutor John Tanner obliterated any shred of credibility she may have had. As he brought to light all her lies and inconsistencies, she became agitated and angry. Her attorneys repeatedly advised her not to answer questions, and she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination twenty-five times. She was the defense's only witness, and when she left the stand there was not much doubt about how her trial would end.

On January 27, Judge Uriel Blount charged the jury. They returned with their verdict less than two hours later. They found Wuornos guilty of first-degree murder, and as they filed out of the courtroom she exploded with rage, shouting, "I'm innocent! I was raped! I hope you get raped! Scumbags of America!" Her outburst was still fresh in the minds of jurors as the penalty phase of her trial began the next day. Expert witnesses for the defense testified that Wuornos was mentally ill, that she suffered from borderline personality disorder, and that her tumultuous upbringing had stunted and ruined her. Jenkins referred to her client as "a damaged, primitive child" as she pleaded with the jury to spare Wuornos's life. But jurors neither forgot nor forgave the woman they'd come to know during the trial. With a unanimous verdict, they recommended that Judge Blount sentence her to the electric chair. He did so on January 31.


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