by Phyllis Chesler

Many studies have shown that at least 90 percent of all violent crime and 99 percent of mass and serial murder is committed by men, not women. However, women are not rewarded – no cash, no political power, no freedom from violence – for being “good girls.”

Perhaps a woman’s only reward is in knowing that as bad as things are, they’re even “worse” for “bad girls.” A “bad girl” is any woman who’s poor, (or too rich or ambitious for a woman), non-white, unwed, not young, not thin and-pretty, without strong family support, and who is therefore vulnerable to accusations of mental illness, lesbianism, drug addiction, sexual promiscuity or witchcraft, i.e. feminism, paganism, socialism, etc.

Enter Aileen (Lee) Carol Wuornos – a prostitute and lesbian accused of killing at least five men – a really “bad” girl.

On The Issues Magazine - Aileen (Lee) Carol Wuornos

On January 31, 1992, in Daytona Beach, Florida, Wuornos, described by the media and countless experts, including the FBI, as the world’s first female serial killer, was sentenced to die in the electric chair for the murder of 51 -year-old ex-convict Richard Mallory.

I believe that if the state of Florida could, it would electrocute Wuornos once for each man she’s accused of killing. But what, really, are her true crimes?

Is Wuornos guilty of not having killed herself – the way all “good” sexual abuse victims and prostitutes are supposed to do? (Wuornos says she was abused in childhood and serially raped as a teenage prostitute.) Or is Wuornos guilty of daring to defend herself in a violent struggle with a man and, by example, encouraging other prostitutes to do likewise?

Most people – and this includes judges, jurors, and lawyers – value men’s lives more than women’s and empathize with, sometimes even romanticize, men – but not women – who sin. In fact, lawyers, both male and female, often defend male – but not female – killers pro bono.

A woman’s story is rarely believed, by men or even by other women: Less so if she’s accusing a man of being the aggressor. This is true for both “respectable” women like Anita Hill, Patricia Bowman, or the accuser in the St. John’s gang-rape case, and for less “respectable” women – like prostitutes.

Wuornos claims that she killed in self defense. Apart from her own testimony, the jury never got to hear any evidence that might have helped them evaluate this much-derided claim. For example, according to police who interviewed Mallory’s ex-girlfriend Jackie Davis and Chastity Lee Marcus (one of two prostitutes Mallory partied with the night before he picked Wuornos up): Mallory served 10 years in prison for burglary, suffered from mood swings, drank too much, was violent towards women, enjoyed the strip bars, was into pornography, was erratic in business and in trouble with the IRS, and had undergone therapy for some kind of sexual dysfunction. Judge Uriel “Bucky” Blount did not allow Jackie Davis to testify about Mallory’s violence towards women.

Wuornos was indigent and was assigned a public defender. The original judge (who later recused herself) replaced Wuornos’ first public defender who, Wuornos charged, had negotiated the movie rights to Wuornos’ story. At Wuornos’ request, her new public defender was a woman.

The most idealistic and hard-working of public defenders is still too overworked and lacks the resources to do more than a perfunctory job. Wuornos’ new public defender had 12 other capital cases in addition to Wuornos’. She asked the judge: “Do I spend all my time on Ms. Wuornos’ case and let the others slide? Or do I do it in reverse? I am in a bind.” One reporter I spoke with about the case kept needling me for not being cynical enough: “C’mon, Wuornos is not entitled to the kind of lawyer that William Kennedy Smith had. Get real!”

Now, I’m not about to crusade for “equal rights for serial killers” but if this reporter is right, why does Jeffrey Dahmer, accused of torturing, raping, killing, cannibalizing and dismembering 15 young men, mainly of color, attract a private pro bono lawyer? Furthermore, why did Dahmer, unlike Wuornos, merit many national experts, skinheads demonstrating on his behalf in Chicago (“He got rid of the filth” they chanted), and, reported by various media, a growing number of women supporters, some of whom have formed a Jeffrey Dahmer Fan Club?

Or let’s look at another Florida serial killer: Ted Bundy, who killed at least 30 and possibly 100 women. Several lawyers offered to defend Bundy pro bono, an expert advised him on jury selection pro bono; at one point, no fewer than five public defenders assisted Bundy, who insisted on representing himself. (Several lawyers would have defended Wuornos pro bono in the first of five trials, but only if at least $50,000 in expenses could be raised.)

Even more interesting: The state of Florida offered Bundy a life sentence without parole; Bundy refused the plea bargain. Wuornos’ lawyers tried to set up a similar arrangement for her but one county prosecutor thought she deserved to die and refused to agree to a plea bargain.

Do we have different standards for evil, violence and insanity: One for men, another for women? Or is Wuornos simply too evil – for a woman? As such, is her punishment a warning to other women that female violence, including self-defense, will never be glamorized or forgiven, only punished swiftly and terribly?

Wuornos’ first trial was exceptionally speedy: Only 13 court days. A review of the court papers and media visuals show that Judge Blount, who was coaxed out of retirement for this case, granted all of the prosecution’s and denied most of the defense motions. The jury would see excerpts from Wuornos’ videotaped confession – minus her repeated statements that she killed in self-defense. Under Florida’s Williams Rule*, the jury would also hear about the six other alleged murders. (Contrast this with William Kennedy Smith’s jury that, under the same rule, was not allowed to hear three other allegations of rape). Blount did not grant the defense a change of venue based on the enormous, local, pre-trial publicity, which included Wuornos’ televised confession. Blount felt that he could seat an “impartial” jury even if they’d seen or heard about the confession – and he did so in a day and a half! Given the gravity and the notoriety of the case, the 68 prospective jurors might have been polled individually; none were. (Bundy did get a change of venue, from Tallahasee to Miami, for a similar reason.)

During the first part of the trial, Wuornos herself was the only witness for the defense – despite the fact that more than 10 mainly pro bono experts were ready to testify for the defense. I know because I organized them. These included a psychologist, a psychiatrist, experts in prostitution, battery, rape, lesbianism, alcoholism and adoption, among others. One is considered this country’s leading expert on women who kill in self-defense. Wuornos’ attorneys turned down these witnesses. No reason was given. Incredibly, they allowed no one to testify for the defense except Wuornos herself.

Her testimony on the stand about Mallory’s murderous behavior was dignified, credible and very moving.

In the penalty phase of the trial, the jury heard from two psychologists who diagnosed Wuornos as a “borderline personality” suffering from “organic brain syndrome.” In my opinion, they might as well have testified for the prosecution.

Attorney John Tanner, a born-again Christian, was Ted Bundy’s death-row “minister” and tried to have Bundy’s execution delayed. Yet, as the lead prosecutor in the Wuornos case, Tanner pushed the death penalty, portraying Wuornos as a “predatory prostitute” whose “appetite for lust and control had taken a lethal turn;” who “had been exercising control for years over men” and who “killed for power, for full and ultimate control.”

When men are accused of crimes even terrible crimes, their families invariably back them. The Kennedy women always stick by their man; Mike Tyson’s adoptive mother accompanied him to court daily. Even Bundy had enormous emotional and secretarial/ public-relations support from his mother Louise and his 32-year-old “fiancee,” Carol Lee Boone, whom he would marry and later impregnate, both of whom testified for him. Scores of pretty young women attended the trial and openly flirted with him in court.

Wuornos did have the support of the woman who first contacted her after her arrest and who legally adopted her in November, 1991. However, Wuornos’ uncle/brother Barry, 12 years her senior, with whom she’d been raised as siblings and whom she hadn’t seen for at least 20 years, testified for the prosecution. He claimed that Wuornos had never been “abused” at home and therefore had no “reason” to kill anyone. (I’d call what happened to Lee Wuornos “abuse”: According to Wuornos, she was abandoned by her biological mother at six months, abused and neglected by her grandparental family, raped – presumably by a stranger – and impregnated at 13, and surrendered the infant for adoption at 14 – whereupon she dropped out of school, left home, and lived as a teenage prostitute, alcoholic, panhandler and occasional thief.)

In Bundy’s case, the jury took seven hours to find him guilty and seven and a half hours to sentence him to death. Wuornos’ jury of five men and seven women needed only one hour and 31 minutes to find Wuornos guilty, and one hour and 48 minutes to recommend the death penalty; At 9 a.m. the next day, Blount, who could override the jury’s recommendation, ordered that Wuornos die in the electric chair. She was immediately taken to Death Row at the Broward County Correctional Facility for Women.

I am not saying that Wuornos did not kill anyone, nor am I saying she is sane – merely that a strategic use of the insanity plea might have saved her from the death sentence. It is still justifiable – even for a seriously traumatized woman – to kill in self-defense and Wuornos’ claim of self-defense against a violent john is plausible. Her claim certainly merited far more thought and consideration than the deliberate neglect it received from those who heard and tried her case. Blount refused to let the jury hear the special instructions fashioned by the defense to reflect these two considerations.

Wuornos has been under attack all her life, probably more than any soldier in a real war. For years people said: “How can a prostitute be raped?” Now, given what we know about how often prostitutes are raped, beaten, robbed, arrested and killed, often by real serial killers, people say: “Well, it’s part of the job description. If she doesn’t like it, why doesn’t she get out?” Wuornos has turned this question around. “If men don’t want to be killed, they should stay away from prostitutes – or at least stop degrading and assaulting them.”

Note: As we go to press, Wuornos has requested no further trials and demanded immediate execution.

At midnight on November 30th, 1989, 51-year-old ex-convict Richard Mallory picked up 34-year-old Aileen Carol Wuornos in Tampa. He agreed to drive her to Daytona – nearly five hours away. Based on Wuornos’ coerced confession and her testimony on the stand, here is her rendition of what happened that night:
I went to Tampa and made a little money hustling. I was hitchhiking home at night. This guy picked me up right outside of Tampa, underneath the bridge. So he’s smokin’ pot and we’re goin’ down the road and he says, do you want a drink? So we’re drinkin’ and we’re gettin’ pretty drunk. Then, around 5:00 in the morning, he says: okay, do you want to make your money now? So we go into the woods. He’s huggin’ and kissin’ on me. He starts pushin’ me down. And I said, wait a minute, you know, get cool. You don’t have to get rough, you know. Let’s have fun…
I said I would not [have sex with him]. He said, yes, you are, bitch. You’re going to do everything I tell you. If you don’t I’m going to kill you and [have sex with you] after you’re dead, just like the other sluts. It doesn ‘t matter, your body will still be warm. He tied my wrists to the steering wheel, and screwed me in the ass. Afterwards, he got a Visine bottle filled with rubbing alcohol out of the trunk. He said the Visine bottle was one of my surprises. He emptied it into my rectum. It really hurt bad because he tore me up a lot. He got dressed, got a radio, sat on the hood for what seemed like an hour. I was really pissed. I was yelling at him, and struggling to get my hands free. Eventually he untied me, put a stereo wire around my neck and tried to rape me again…
Then I thought, well, this dirty bastard deserves to die because of what he was tryin’ to do to me. We struggled. I reached for my gun. I shot him. I scrambled to cover the shooting because I didn’t think the police would believe I killed him in self-defense…
I have to say it. I killed them all because they got violent with me and I decided to defend myself…
I’m sure if after the fightin’ they found I had a weapon, they would’ve shot me. So I just shot them…