Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Lawrence Bittaker & Roy Norris

Killing Time

Lawrence Bittaker, prison photo
Lawrence Bittaker,
prison photo

Death penalty sentences are neither sure nor swift. Appeal of a death sentence is automatic, regardless of the defendant's wishes. Two years elapsed before the California Supreme Court appointed Bittaker's appellate attorney, six more before the same court affirmed Bittaker's death sentence on June 28, 1989. Bittaker was absent on October 4, 1989, when Torrance judge John Shook set his execution for December 29, but he had little to fear. His attorney filed yet another appeal that automatically stayed the execution. On June 11, 1990, the California Supreme Court declined to hear the case again.

Later that same year, while actor Scott Glenn was preparing for his role as an FBI profiler in The Silence of the Lambs, he visited the Bureau's Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico, Virginia. Legendary profiler John Douglas gave Glenn a tour of the facility. Glenn listened to the Bittaker/Norris tapes and he left Douglas' office in tears. He told reporters that he entered the office as a death penalty opponent. He left staunchly in favor of capital punishment.

When Bittaker was not busy drafting appeals, he amused himself by filing frivolous suits against the state prison system. There were more than 40 in all by October 1995. In one case, where he claimed he had been subjected to "cruel and unusual punishment" by receipt of a broken cookie on his lunch tray, state officials paid $5,000 to have the suit dismissed. Before the state was granted summary judgment, they had to prove that Bittaker could skip his lunch and still survive by only eating breakfast and dinner.

It was all great fun and cost Bittaker nothing, since California prisoners are permitted to file their suits for free. When not pursuing nuisance litigation, Bittaker enjoyed a daily game of bridge with fellow inmates Randy Kraft, Douglas Clark and William Bonin, themselves convicted serial killers with an estimated 94 victims among them. The game was left short-handed in February 1996, after Bonin was executed, but Bittaker has other diversions. In the late 1990s, a catalogue of prison memorabilia offered his fingernail clippings for sale to murder groupies. And there is fan mail — enough to keep him busy between card games.

Bittaker often signs his letters with a nickname.

"Pliers."

 

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