Theodore Robert Bundy Trials: 1976 & 1979
Theodore Robert Bundy Trials:
1976 & 1979
Defendant: Theodore Robert Bundy
Crime Charged: First Trial: Aggravated kidnapping; Second Trial: Murder
Chief Defense Lawyers: First Trial: John O'Connell; Second trial: Robert Haggard, Edward Harvey, Margaret Good, and Lynn Thompson
Chief Prosecutors: First Trial: David Yocum; Second Trial: Larry Simpson and Daniel McKeever
Judges: First Trial: Stewart Hanson; Second Trial: Edward Cowart
Places: First Trial: Salt Lake City, Utah; Second Trial: Miami, Florida
Dates of Trials: February 23-March 1, 1976; June 25-July 31, 1979
Verdict: Guilty, both trials
Sentences: First Trial: 1-15 years; Second Trial: death
SIGNIFICANCE: More than any other murderer, Ted Bundy both fascinated and horrified onlookers. Others have killed more, some killed more horribly, but for most Americans, this young man with the movie star appearance remains one of the most notorious. Often overshadowed by his grim charisma was the controversial testimony that eventually undid him. Bundy's ready smile might have been tailor-made for the cameras, but it proved lethal in the hands of those prosecutors determined to convict him.
Between 1969 and 1975 an unprecedented wave of sex-killings swept from California, through the Pacific Northwest, and into Utah and Colorado. All of the victims were strikingly similar—female, young, attractive, and generally with long hair parted in the middle. Some were found dumped in deserted areas, others were never seen again. As the various law enforcement agencies compared notes and suspects, one name kept cropping up: Ted Bundy, a handsome young Seattle, Washington, law student. But nothing could be proved.
And then on November 8, 1974, 18-year-old Salt Lake City, Utah, resident Carol DaRonch was tricked into entering a Volkswagen outside a shopping mall by a stranger claiming to be a police officer. When the man attempted to handcuff and bludgeon her, DaRonch managed to escape from the car. On August 16, 1975, a Salt Lake City police officer arrested a Volkswagen driver who had been acting suspiciously. Inside the car were a crowbar and handcuffs. The driver turned out to be Ted Bundy. DaRonch identified him as her abductor, leading to charges of aggravated kidnapping.
Bundy Forgoes Jury
The biggest problem facing prosecutor Dave Yocum when Bundy's trial began February 23, 1976, was safeguarding against the possibility of a mistrial. By this time, speculation that Bundy was indeed a mass murderer had grown; any hint of that appearing in this case could bring about a reversal. Bundy opted to forgo trial by jury and put his fate in the hands of Judge Stewart Hanson. Virtually the entire prosecution case hinged on Carol DaRonch. Painfully shy, she gave her testimony, eyes fixed on the floor, a point not lost on Judge Hanson. By her own admission, DaRonch found it difficult to look people in the face. But when Yocum asked her, "Is that man in court today?" she answered, "Yes."
"Where is he seated?"
For the first time, DaRonch looked at Bundy, a fleeting glance. "Right there," she breathed.
On cross-examination, defense counsel John O'Connell highlighted discrepancies in DaRonch's descriptions of her attacker to police. At first she claimed he had a mustache, then he did not, then he did. He also queried her identification of the Volkswagen, drawing attention to the fact that it now looked markedly different. In a quiet voice, DaRonch conceded that her identification of the vehicle had been stimulated by police assurances that it "was supposed to be the car."
Naturally, Bundy denied everything. He was ingratiating and pugnacious by turns, but prosecutor Yocum prevailed. A series of quick-fire questions about the circumstances surrounding his arrest clearly rattled Bundy and culminated in a damaging admission that he had, on occasion, worn a false mustache.
After a troubled weekend of deliberation, Judge Hanson returned a guilty verdict, saying, "I cannot say that there weren't any doubts." Following a prolonged psychological evaluation, Bundy was sentenced to 1-15 years imprisonment.
One year later, in June 1977, after extradition to Colorado on a murder charge, Bundy escaped. He was captured after eight days of living on the run. Incredibly, on December 30, 1977, Bundy escaped again. This time he proved more elusive.
On the Run and Deadly
Two weeks and 2,000 miles later, five female students attending Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee were savagely attacked at the Chi Omega sorority house. Two of the girls, Lisa Levy and Margaret Bowman, died. Just a few blocks away, another student was attacked but lived. On February 16, 1978, a man using the name "Chris Hagen" was arrested for driving a stolen vehicle. Ted Bundy had been captured for the last time. Only later was it learned that just days before his arrest he had killed again: 12-year-old Kimberly Leach, of Lake City, Florida. Her body was found April 7, 1978.
Because of local feeling, Bundy's trial for the FSU killings was moved to Miami. Earlier it had appeared likely that there would be no trial. Faced with the possibility of two lengthy trials—Bundy was scheduled to be tried for the murder of Kimberly Leach later—the prosecutors reluctantly agreed to a plea bargain. Everything was set; Bundy signed a confession, admitting that he had killed Lisa Levy, Margaret Bowman, and Kimberly Leach. In return, he expected that, "Under the terms of this negotiated plea, I will serve seventy-five (75) calendar years in prison before I become eligible for parole." But when Bundy stood in court to deliver this plea, he abruptly changed his mind and stated, "I'm not going to do it." His attorneys looked on aghast as a trial was set.
The Miami trial got under way June 25, 1979. Larry Simpson made the opening prosecution statement, a low-key, workmanlike presentation, long on fact and bereft of emotion. For theatrics, the court had to rely on the self-appointed chief defense counsel: Bundy himself. It wasn't supposed to be that way—the court had appointed a fine team to argue his case—but Bundy's ego would not allow him to leave well enough alone. His cross-examination of Roy Crew, the FSU officer first on the scene at Chi Omega, was inept. Bundy pushed Crew hard to describe the murder scene in graphic detail, as if determined to impress upon the jury the awfulness of the crime.
Testimony that Could Kill
However, when Coral Gables dentist Dr. Richard Souviron assumed the stand, Bundy took a back seat. This was testimony that could kill him and he knew it. Lisa Levy had sustained bite marks to the buttocks. By comparing photographs of those teeth marks with an oversize photo of Bundy's mouth, Dr. Souviron was able to show undeniable similarities. Prosecutor Simpson asked, "Doctor, can you tell us, within a reasonable degree of dental certainty, whether or not the teeth. of Theodore Robert Bundy … made the bite marks?"
"Yes, sir." For the first time, there was actual physical evidence linking Bundy to a murder victim.
Defender Ed Harvey was quick to try and undermine the setback. "Analyzing bite marks is part art and part science, isn't it?" he asked the dentist.
"I think that's a fair statement."
"Your conclusions are really a matter of opinion. Is that correct?"
Dr. Souviron agreed that it was, but the damage had been done. Confirmation came from Dr. Lowell Levine, chief consultant in forensic dentistry to the New York City Medical Examiner, who told the court that dental identification had been admitted into testimony as far back as the late 19th century. This evidence dealt a body-blow to the defense lawyers, one from which they never recovered. Significantly, Bundy, so eager to play the advocate, declined to testify on his own behalf.
On July 23, 1978, Ted Bundy was found guilty on all charges. Even at the end, his personal magnetism didn't desert him. Judge Edward Cowart, after passing sentence of death, felt moved to add a few words: "You'd have made a good lawyer … but you went another way, partner. Take care of yourself." It was an extraordinary end to an extraordinary trial.
Bundy received a third death sentence on February 12, 1980, following his conviction for killing Kimberly Leach. After years of appellate pleas, on January 24, 1989, "the most hated man in America" was executed in Florida's electric chair.
More than anyone else, Ted Bundy shattered popular notions of how a crazed killer should look and act. He was not wild-eyed, dirty, or dissolute; on the contrary, he was incredibly charming. And in a society where such a premium is placed on appearance, he remains a reminder that things are often not what they seem, and nothing is unthinkable.
Suggestions for Further Reading
Kendall, Elizabeth. The Phantom Prince. Seattle: Madrona, 1981.
Larsen, Richard W. Bandy: The Deliberate Stranger. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall, 1980.
Michaud, Stephen G. and Hugh Aynesworth. The Only Living Witness. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1983.
Rule, Ann. The Stranger Beside Me. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989.