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Ted Bundy convicted of FSU murders in Miami trial 40 years ago

Serial killer executed decade after trial was first to be nationally televised

Ted Bundy sits in a Miami courtroom in 1979.
Ted Bundy sits in a Miami courtroom in 1979. (Associated Press)

MIAMI – It was 40 years ago today that Ted Bundy was convicted in Miami and shortly thereafter sentenced to die for murdering two Chi Omega students at Florida State University.

Bundy, then 32, was convicted on two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of attempted murder and two counts of burglary on July 24, 1979, after a month-long trial in Miami.

The trial had been moved to Miami the previous summer after an impartial jury could not be found in Tallahassee, where the murders occurred.

Ted Bundy smiles for the media after Leon County Sheriff Ken Katsaris informed him of his indictment by a grand jury, July 28, 1978. Bundy was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder in the Chi Omega killings.
Ted Bundy smiles for the media after Leon County Sheriff Ken Katsaris informed him of his indictment by a grand jury, July 28, 1978. Bundy was indicted on two counts of first-degree murder in the Chi Omega killings.

Bundy was found guilty of murdering Lisa Levy, 20, and Margaret Bowman, 21, who were strangled with a pair of nylon pantyhose and bludgeoned with an oak-limb club in their beds at the Chi Omega sorority house on the FSU campus in the early morning hours of Jan. 15, 1978. Two other sorority sisters -- Kathy Kleiner, from Fort Lauderdale, and her roommate, Karen Chandler -- and another student -- Cheryl Thomas, who lived a few blocks away -- were also attacked but survived.


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The trial

Long before O.J. Simpson's murder trial captivated American audiences with gavel-to-gavel coverage, Bundy's trial in Miami was the first to be televised nationally.

After a change of venue nearly 500 miles away from Florida's capital city, jury selection began June 25, 1979, in a Miami courtroom.

Ted Bundy stares into the camera during the second day of jury selection in his murder trial, June 27, 1979, in Miami. Bundy is accused in the bludgeoning deaths of two Chi Omega sorority sisters, Jan. 15, 1978, in Tallahassee.
Ted Bundy stares into the camera during the second day of jury selection in his murder trial, June 27, 1979, in Miami. Bundy is accused in the bludgeoning deaths of two Chi Omega sorority sisters, Jan. 15, 1978, in Tallahassee.

Having already rejected a plea deal that would have spared him the death penalty, Bundy was represented by a court-appointed defense team, much to his chagrin. The former law school student was constantly at odds with his lawyers throughout the legal proceedings.

"He has a defect in his reasoning process that prevents him from making a decision," assistant public defender Michael Minerva wrote in a memorandum addressing Bundy's competency prior to trial. "He lacks the mental stability to decide on a course of action."


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Bundy fired Minerva in May 1979.

On the first day of jury selection, Bundy complained to Judge Edward D. Cowart about the conditions of his "punishment" cell at the Dade County jail. After touring the cell with prosecutor Dan McKeever, Cowart agreed with some of Bundy's complaints and ordered that a jailhouse conference room be made available so Bundy -- who, until his Feb. 15, 1978, arrest in Pensacola, had been on the FBI's 10 most-wanted list after escaping from a Colorado jail in 1977 -- could read his law books in preparation for his defense.

Ted Bundy gestures as he presents a motion before Judge Edward D. Cowart during Bundy's murder trial, June 25, 1979, in Miami. Bundy's motion complained that he could not work on his defense in a 9-by-7-foot "punishment" cell.
Ted Bundy gestures as he presents a motion before Judge Edward D. Cowart during Bundy's murder trial, June 25, 1979, in Miami. Bundy's motion complained that he could not work on his defense in a 9-by-7-foot "punishment" cell.

The defense team -- comprised of assistant public defenders Edward Harvey, Margaret Good and Lynn Thompson and volunteer private attorney Robert Haggard -- elicited the services of Dr. Emil Spillman, an Atlanta-based hypnotist, to help seat a jury.

After days of whittling down scores of potential jurors -- some of whom had reservations about the death penalty, concerns of being sequestered for several weeks or admitted they had a prejudicial opinion of Bundy from all the pre-trial publicity (a prospective juror noted during voir dire that one would "have to be in Siberia" to avoid publicity of the case) -- attorneys for both sides settled on a 12-person jury and three alternates June 30, 1979.

The seven-man, five-woman jury who sealed Bundy's fate were: James Bennett, a truck driver; Dave Brown, a hotel employee; Robert Corbett, who installed awnings for a living; Bernest Donald, a high school teacher; Mazie Edge, a recently retired elementary school principal; Ruth Hamilton, a maid; Floy Mitchell, a housewife; Alan Smith, a clothing designer; Estela Suarez, a bookkeeper; Vernon Swindle, a Miami Herald mailroom employee; Mary Russo, a supermarket clerk; and foreman Rudolph Treml, a Texaco engineer.

Once the trial began in earnest, the defense team was beset by Bundy's seemingly rogue actions. From the beginning, Bundy "sabotaged the entire defense effort out of spite, distrust and grandiose delusion," defense attorney Polly Nelson wrote in her 1994 book, "Defending the Devil: My Story as Ted Bundy's Last Lawyer."

Ted Bundy, center, consults with members of his defense team in a Miami courtroom, June 25, 1979, after the opening of his murder trial. Public defender Margaret Good, left, listens intently.
Ted Bundy, center, consults with members of his defense team in a Miami courtroom, June 25, 1979, after the opening of his murder trial. Public defender Margaret Good, left, listens intently.

Nelson represented Bundy from 1986 until his execution in 1989.

"Ted [was] facing murder charges, with a possible death sentence, and all that mattered to him apparently was that he be in charge," she wrote.

Bundy sometimes insisted on questioning witnesses, raising objections and disrupting the defense team.

In a bizarre courtroom spectacle, Bundy went against the advice of his legal counsel when he cross-examined a police officer and called himself to the witness stand to testify, referencing himself in the third-person.

Cowart cautioned Bundy during the trial that "a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client." That didn't deter Bundy.


From the vault: Cheryl Thomas testifies in Ted Bundy murder trial


Bundy received a stern lecture from Cowart after he stuffed toilet paper into the lock of his cell so that he wouldn't have to appear in court. After conferring with his attorneys from his cell, Bundy eventually appeared before Cowart, who held him in contempt and chastised him when he pointed his finger at the judge.

"Don't shake your finger at me, young man," Cowart told Bundy on July 17, 1979.

Bundy continued making his case, this time pointing down and to his side.

"That's fine, you can shake it at Mr. Haggard," Cowart said, eliciting laughter from the courtroom.

Prosecutors called 49 witnesses to testify during the trial. Defense attorneys called just 15.

Perhaps the most incriminating evidence during Bundy's trial were the bite wounds found on Levy's buttocks. Dr. Richard Souviron, a Coral Gables specialist in applying dental evidence to criminal investigations, testified that the bite marks matched the impressions and photographs taken of Bundy's teeth. 

Jurors also heard crucial testimony from Nita Neary, who claimed she saw Bundy leaving the Chi Omega sorority house clutching "a club or a log."

Nita Neary, right, looks at a drawing in court as prosecutor Larry Simpson holds additional prints during the murder trial of Ted Bundy, July 18, 1979, in Miami. Neary is considered a key witness as she is the only eyewitness in the trial.
Nita Neary, right, looks at a drawing in court as prosecutor Larry Simpson holds additional prints during the murder trial of Ted Bundy, July 18, 1979, in Miami. Neary is considered a key witness as she is the only eyewitness in the trial.

Kleiner, who recently spoke to Local10.com from her home in Louisiana, recalled the day she took the stand as a witness for the prosecution. She remembers testifying during cross-examination that she never saw Bundy's face during the attack.

"It hurts me to this day that I didn't help put a nail in his coffin," Kleiner said.


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Conflicts between Bundy and his lawyers led Haggard to step down during the trial. Harvey also unsuccessfully petitioned Cowart to be released.

When the time came for closing arguments, Bundy designated Good, who had never argued a felony case in front of a jury before the Bundy trial, to deliver them.

Good told the jury it would be "a sad day for our system of justice" when the state "could put a man's life on the line because he has crooked teeth." 

The jury deliberated for less than seven hours before the verdicts were announced at 9:31 p.m. Guilty on all counts.

"It was a good feeling," Kleiner recalled.

The sentencing

Jurors spent the next few days deliberating whether to sentence Bundy to death. 

Carol DaRonch testifies at a pre-sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Ted Bundy, as Judge Edward D. Cowart looks on, July 28, 1979, in Miami. Bundy was convicted of kidnapping DaRonch from a Salt Lake City suburb in 1974.
Carol DaRonch testifies at a pre-sentencing hearing for convicted murderer Ted Bundy, as Judge Edward D. Cowart looks on, July 28, 1979, in Miami. Bundy was convicted of kidnapping DaRonch from a Salt Lake City suburb in 1974.

Three days after the verdict, Bundy sat down with Associated Press reporter Dan Sewell for an exclusive jailhouse interview.

"I know I'm innocent," Bundy told Sewell. "Certainly the verdict hasn't changed my mind about that. I'm innocent, and that's what's going to keep me going through all this."

Bundy said he "wouldn't be surprised" if he received the death penalty, but he planned to appeal.

"I'm at a loss for words to guess what it was that caused them to return a verdict so quickly," he said of the jury's deliberations. "I don't know what persuaded them to act so swiftly. I don't know what they were paying attention to."

His prediction came true. Siding with the jury's recommendation, Cowart sentenced Bundy to die on July 31, 1979.

"The court finds that both of these killings were indeed heinous, atrocious and cruel, and that they were extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile and the product of a design to inflict a high degree of pain and utter indifference to human life," Cowart said at the sentencing hearing. "This court, independent of, but in agreement with the advisory sentence rendered by the jury, does hereby impose the death penalty upon the defendant, Theodore Robert Bundy."

Judge Edward D. Cowart reads the sentence to Ted Bundy and his defense attorney Margaret Good, backs to camera, July 31, 1979, in Miami. Bundy was sentenced to death in the electric chair for the murders of two Chi Omega sorority sisters in 1978.
Judge Edward D. Cowart reads the sentence to Ted Bundy and his defense attorney Margaret Good, backs to camera, July 31, 1979, in Miami. Bundy was sentenced to death in the electric chair for the murders of two Chi Omega sorority sisters in 1978.

Cowart also notably praised Bundy's wasted intellect and offered seemingly sympathetic post-sentencing remarks to the law school-educated serial killer.

"You'd have made a good lawyer and I would have loved to have you practice in front of me, but you went another way, partner," Cowart said. "Take care of yourself."

Although Bundy was sentenced to death for the Chi Omega murders, it would be his trial in Orlando a year later that sealed his fate. Bundy was again found guilty of murder, this time for the death of Kimberly Leach in Lake City in February 1978.

The 12-year-old girl was presumed to have been Bundy's final victim in a gruesome series of cross-country killings from Washington to Florida.

Death row

It would be another 10 years before Bundy was finally executed.

Bundy appealed his convictions for the Chi Omega murders in October 1982. Four months later, in January 1983, Bundy appealed his conviction in the Orlando trial. Both appeals were eventually denied.

While Bundy was serving time on death row in July 1984, guards at the Florida State Prison thwarted an apparent escape attempt after discovering hacksaw blades and a loose bar to his cell that had been sawed off and carefully replaced.

The great escape artist had twice eluded Colorado authorities in 1977, jumping out of a second-floor courthouse window during recess before being caught six days later. Bundy's second escape on Dec. 30, 1977, ultimately led him to Tallahassee. While he was awaiting trial in an Aspen jail, a noticeably thinner Bundy piled books and files in his bed, covered them with a blanket to give the appearance that he was asleep in his cell and climbed through a crawl space in the ceiling where a light fixture had been. He broke through the ceiling into the apartment of the chief jailer, who was out for the evening, changed into street clothes he stole from the jailer's closet and walked out the door to freedom.

Ted Bundy appears in good spirits after being recaptured, June 13, 1977, just outside of Aspen, Colorado, city limits.
Ted Bundy appears in good spirits after being recaptured, June 13, 1977, just outside of Aspen, Colorado, city limits.

In an effort to avoid a repeat performance from Bundy, his captors at the Florida State Prison moved him to another wing. Bundy wasn't going to get away this time.

Then-Gov. Bob Graham signed Bundy's first death warrant for the Chi Omega murders on Feb. 5, 1986.

But Bundy would be granted three stays of execution in the years that followed. The first came on Feb. 26, 1986, when the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay of Bundy's March 4 execution pending a decision on whether to hear an appeal.

The high court lifted the stay in May. Soon after, Graham signed a second death warrant for July 2.

On the eve of Bundy's scheduled execution, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta issued a 24-hour stay. An indefinite stay was granted the next day.

After the Supreme Court denied Bundy a new trial for the Lake City murder, Graham signed Bundy's third death warrant -- the first tied to Leach's death -- on Oct. 21, 1986.

But hours before Bundy's scheduled execution on Nov. 17, Bundy was granted another stay when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back for an evidentiary hearing. An appellate court, and later the Supreme Court, rejected the appeal.

Bundy's fourth and final death warrant was signed by then-Gov. Bob Martinez on Jan. 17, 1989. After several failed appeals in the final days of his life, Bundy began confessing to his crimes in a last-ditch effort for self-preservation. It didn't work.

Bundy, his head shaved and bowed, was finally led into the death chamber at the Florida State Prison, strapped into the electric chair and executed on Jan. 24, 1989. He was pronounced dead at 7:16 a.m.

A white hearse carrying the body of Ted Bundy, who was executed, leaves the Florida State Prison, Jan. 24, 1989, in Raiford, Florida.
A white hearse carrying the body of Ted Bundy, who was executed, leaves the Florida State Prison, Jan. 24, 1989, in Raiford, Florida.

"You can only execute a person one time, but I wish we could have done it 36 times," Kleiner recalled.

Bundy's last words: "Jim and Fred, I'd like you to give my love to my family and friends." They were directed to his attorney, Jim Coleman, and Fred Lawrence, a minister who prayed with Bundy on the final night of his life.

As hundreds gathered outside the prison for his execution, some chanting, "Burn, Bundy, burn," one of America's most notorious serial killers took his last breath about 360 miles north of that Miami courtroom where he had derailed his own defense and acted as his own attorney a decade earlier.


From the vault: Judge Edward Cowart dies of heart attack


In the end, Bundy would outlive the man who first sentenced him to death. Cowart died of a heart attack on Aug. 3, 1987, while Bundy was still on death row. 

Cowart was 62. Bundy was 42.


All file video of WPLG footage courtesy of Miami Dade College's Wolfson Archives.