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Case File: Aileen "Lee" Wuornos

Her victims though they were trading money for sex, but they paid a higher price with their lives.

January 01, 1996  |  by John Bankston

Lover Steps Forward

In addition to all of the eyewitnesses and crime scene descriptions, there was one witness in particular that the prosecution was counting on-Tyria Moore. But the state's star witness was tainted by rumors of her own six-figure movie deal and a question that was on the minds of many. Was Moore just a guilty accomplice who had cut a deal and was willing to lie to avoid punishment?

On the fourth day of the trial, Moore's name was called. She strode to the witness box wearing a flashy, embroidered shirt and cowboy boots. If the courtroom had become restless during days of expert testimony, its attention was recaptured by Moors appearance. As Wuornos' lover of more than four years, only she could describe the accused's state of mind during the murders.

Moore and Wuornos had seen each other only once since the arrest.  But in the courtroom, the long-time companions avoided eye contact.  It was only during her most damning testimony that Moore allowed her gaze to stray.  The two briefly looked at each other, and while Moore recalled her last months with Wuornos she offered the defendant a weak smile.

Wuornos had asserted that she had killed Mallory in self defense.  But Moore had later been her confidant and had a different story.

Quietly, Moore described to the packed courtroom how Wuorno had come back to their hotel room on that December evening, telling her that she had just shot a man.  Moore testified that she refused to believe her and tried to change the subject.  But as the two watched television, Wuornos continued to deserve what had happened.  And, according to Moore, there was never any mention of a confrontation or self defense.  Nor did Moore see any sign of remorse.

The court allowed into evidence taped phone conversations made between Wuornos and Moore.  While Wuornos was in prison, 11 calls were recorded during a three-day period in January 1991.  Believe that she was speaking with complete privacy, the accused killer offered Moore absolution and a confession.  Don't worry, she said, "I'll take the rap."

Assistant Public Defender William miller tried to discredit the state's star witness.  But despite his best efforts, he could only get Moore to admit having discussed film and book rights with police investigators and lying to Wuornos about the nature of the taped conversations. 

While Wornos' victims couldn't testify against her, the evidence they left behind surely did.  In a move that had the defense team angrily demanding a mistrial, prosecutor John Tanner introduced evidence from the other murders.

Stephen Siems, whose father Peter was one of the victims, took the stand.  Although Wuornos wasn't yet on trial for that crime, Siems wasn't yet on trial for that crime, Siems as introduced to illustrate a criminal pattern to the jury.  Prosecutors didn't just want the defendant seen as a murderer.  They wanted her recognized as a serial killer. 

Stephen Sims carefully identified items that police had found in a rented storage bin at Jack's Mini Warehouse in Daytona Beach.

The key that opened the bin had been in Wuornos' possession the day of her arrest.  When police investiga­tor William Schwoob opened it, the items he uncovered matched the descriptions of those taken from Siems, Spears and Humphreys.

Siems began by identifying his father's license plate. 'and then a shaving kit. jackets. a suitcase and a pair of scissors. He pointed to the shears, and then the 24-year-old mechanical engineer quietly identi­fied them as the pair his father had once used to cut his hair.

Lake County Medical Examiner William Schitz testified on the simi­larity of the deaths of Mallory and Burress. Both had been shot in the chest with a .22-caliber gun.

The Killer Takes the Stand

Wuornos wasn't expected to testi­fy. Her own lawyers were concerned with their client's ability to control her emotions and not entrap herself. But on the last day of the trial, Wuornos took the stand in her own defense. They wouldn't say why-perhaps they had run out of other options.

Assistant Public Defender Tricia Jenkins gently questioned Wuornos and allowed the defendant to describe a scene in which she was the victim. In many ways her descriptions that day differed markedly from the ones she'd given the police in a videotaped confession a year before.

The way Wuornos told it. Mallory had wanted more than just sex. He'd wanted pain, In graphic detail, the accused murderer described how the 51-year-old video repair­man an ally raped her and tied her to the steering wheel of his car. She told of how he used rubbing alcohol to intensify her torment. And then, as he began to have sex with her, Mallory tried to strangle her with a piece of electrical cord.

In her version, it was the fear of death that led her to somehow escape her captor's bonds. extract the .22-caliber pistol she always kept in her purse and aim it at Mal­100Y, A shot was fired, Despite his wounds, Mallory advanced on her, "Don't make me shoot you again'" she said, But despite the threat he continued to come toward her, "He started coming at me and I shot .. · Wuornos told the courtroom, explaining why she shot him three more times,

Why would she take the trouble to conceal Mallory's body if she had killed him in self defense?

"I didn't want the birds to be pecking at his body'" she said,

Why hadn't she mentioned the rape in the course of her video­taped confession?

"That may be what I said, but that's wrong because I was totally incoherent  ... ' she said, attributing her state of mind to alcohol with­drawal. She also assailed that if the detectives questioning her hadn't cut her off she would have spoken about the torture she'd suffered at Mallory's hands. Besides, she said, she was hysterical.

"I'm trying to tell the truth today, what actually happened'" she said to the court.

"Hard to keep the stories straight isn't it? Tanner asked sarcastically.

The defense objected strenuous­ly. During their client's testimony, the defense made sure she didn't answer questions about the other murder cases.

That afternoon, the defense rest­ed. Against the dozens of witnesses who came at the prosecutions behest, the defense only provided the testimony of Wuornos,

Jury Says Death

On Jan. 27. 1992. after listen­ing to closing arguments, the jury returned from 90 minutes of deliberation. It was just a few min­utes before 6 p.m, when Aileen Wuornos heard the foreman's words: "Guilty'"

"Sons of bitches," Wuornos swore at the same 12 people who would decide if she would live or die. In Florida, capital cases continue after the verdict in a penalty phase. Jurors hear evidence and argu­ments from both sides in order to decide for life in prison without parole for 25 years, or the electric chair.

The next day, jurors listened to a finger­print expert, a corrections officer and a police investigator-all of whom were there to support the state's claim that Wuornos was a cold-blooded killer who deserved exe­cution. But a psychologist for the defense argued that the killer's traumatic childhood mitigated her actions.

The jury wasn't swayed by the defense's statements and recommended death. Judge Blount, who had the option of ignor­ing the jury's decision, agreed with their assessment. On Jan. 31 1992, Aileen Wuornos was sentenced to death.

Once she received the death sentence for her role in Mallory's death. her remaining trials were almost anti-climac­tic. As far as Wuornos was concerned, it was over.

In jail she became a self-described, born- again Christian. She decided to forego the next trial for the murders of Humphreys, Burress and Spears. And instead of pleading her case before judge and jury, she retained new counsel-Steve Glazer. A flamboyant musician with a law degree, Glazer repre­sented her as she pleaded "no contest." which while not admitting guilt, fast for­warded the proceedings.

Her former attorney, Assistant Public Defender Billy Nolan, called the decision "unconscionable" and criticized Glazer.

A jury, assembled solely to determine Wuornos' punishment, sentenced her to death after five hours of deliberation on May 7, 1992.

Less than a week later, Circuit Judge Thomas D. Sawaya upheld the jurors' recommendation. ''Thank you," Wuornos said. 'Ill be up in heaven while you all rot in hell."

Throughout the rest of 1992 and into the next year, the sentences continued to come in. In the end, Wuornos was also sentenced to death for the murders of Antonio, Carskaddon and Siems.

For a woman who has been running most of her life, Wuornos' race may soon be over. Mandatory appeals have been filed, but she could be executed as early as 1996. Although she shares her death row status with several other females, it's possi­ble that Wuornos could be the first woman executed in Florida this century.

John Bankston is a freelance writer who initially covered this case for "The Advocate" magazine.

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