At his arraignment this morning in Wichita, Kansas, accused BTK Strangler Dennis Rader stood mute when the time came to enter his plea. Judge Gregory Waller then entered a "not guilty" plea on Rader's behalf.
Rader stands accused of 10 asphyxiation murders that took place in and around Wichita between 1974 and 1991. Each count is for first-degree murder, but because Kansas did not resurrect the death penalty until 1994, Rader will not be sentenced to death if convicted.
Rader entered the courtroom with a hitch in his stride, looking perhaps a little haggard. Some courtroom observers, including Wichita newsman Larry Hatteberg, noted that it was the first time upon entering court that Rader had acknowledged anyone in the courtroom audience.
There were a few interesting developments mentioned in news coverage by CNN of this mornings' brief hearing:
- Apparently no one from Rader's immediate family, his wife or two adult children, has visited him since he's been in jail, but it is rumored that his wife Paula recently wrote him a letter asking that he plead guilty and spare his family the trauma of a trial.
- Charlie Otero, eldest surviving child of BTK's 1974 victim Joseph Otero, called across the courtroom to Rader as the spectators were leaving, and said, "Don't worry; you won't last." Otero was himself recently released from jail after serving 2 years for aggravated assault.
For nearly 25 years the BTK Strangler was a dark enigma, a shadow looming over Wichita. To all appearances he had ceased his killing after 1978. Police did not conclusively link any more homicides to BTK after the 70's, and he ceased his barrage of letters to press and police after that point.
However, in March of 2004, BTK re-emerged, sending a cryptic photocopy to Wichita Eagle reporter Hurst Laviana. The sheet of paper showed photos of a victim not formerly associated with BTK, a woman killed under mysterious circumstances in 1986, Vicki Wegerle. Wegerle was photographed before and after death, and her drivers license was included on the copy as well. Over the next 9 months BTK regularly communicated with police and press alike, sending new letters and even dropping packages of some of his trophies taken from victims throughout the years all over Wichita. By January of 2005 BTK's communication had begun to sound almost chatty, saying he was sorry in one note sent to a Wichita TV station that the anchors were suffering from colds.