On Wednesday, August 17, 2005 the sentencing of BTK Strangler Dennis Rader begins. This will not be a run-of-the-mill court proceeding, but represents the very first time prosecutors will be able to voice their case against him. This will be a very dramatic time, filled with the testimony of victim families and the impact BTK had on their lives. We’ve already heard some of Dennis Rader’s version of what he did to his victims; prosecutors say his version is sanitized and leaves out many of the uglier details of his crimes. Rader’s version was shocking enough for many, but this will be the proverbial rest of the story.
Fortunately we will be allowed to see this all unfold ourselves, thanks to television, the Internet and Court TV. Court TV will be covering the sentencing, expected to last up to three days, both on its cable channel and uninterrupted on its Internet outlet Court TV Extra. Also on the Internet, Wichita’s channel 12 promises to stream it live via its website KWCH.com. Kansas viewers will be able to watch it live on local stations KSN, KAKE and KWCH, plus their Kansas subsidiaries. Viewers are warned that the testimony at times will be graphic.
Dennis Rader evaded a preliminary hearing and a trial by pleading guilty, but was quizzed by Judge Greg Waller over some of what he did while committing his 10 known murders. He coolly responded by describing a version mentioning the strangulations and how he engineered the scenarios, but otherwise talking of how he calmed and comforted his victims before they died. He loosened Joe Otero’s bindings because they were too tight, he said. Gave Shirley Vian a glass of water. Assured Nancy Fox and Dolores Davis that he was after something else other than murder, and so on.
The prosecutors say the evidence points to much more drastic scenarios, during which BTK intentionally tortured his victims psychologically and physically, even reviving some of them from strangulation so that he could strangle them all over again, perhaps a number of times in some cases. Over the years a great deal of information has piled up about what BTK did do, but due to the secrecy required by police investigations it was never permitted that all of it be made public. This will be the opportunity prosecutors have waited years for, the chance to describe in open court exactly what BTK was up to.
But most importantly it will the opportunity for the victims themselves to speak, the deceased via evidence and the survivors via live testimony. There will be a number of surviving family members in court, some of whom will be required to give testimony over how BTK has directly impacted their lives. Survivor Kevin Bright, brother of murder victim Kathryn Bright, was shot in the face but has lived to tell his story of what happened back on April 4, 1974. Steve Relford, son of Shirley Vian, was locked in a bathroom when he was 5 years old while BTK murdered his mother in the adjoining bedroom. Charlie Otero, who came home from high school one day to discover his parents, sister and brother all murdered. Other relatives will give testimony over how the murder of their family members has affected their lives. (See BTK Victims, Survivors and Evidence Gallery for photos and related stories).
BTK himself will be allowed to speak, if he wishes to present mitigating testimony on his own behalf. He may also be forced to face the surviving victims directly themselves and answer questions as to why he so brutally deprived their loved ones of life. All in all, this event should represent the dramatic climax of a chain of events that began with BTK’s re-emegence in March 2004 with the first of a series of communications that led to his arrest. (See The BTK Drops). The judge has discretionary power to rule on Rader’s sentence: he is eligible for a minimum of 15 years to life for each murder victim. In addition, since the last known murder in 1991 occurred after a change in state law that allows for a minimum of 40 years, the judge can therefore require a sentence of as much as 175 years to life if all counts are to be served consecutively.
While everyone knows that Rader, at age 60, will never walk the streets again no matter what the judge rules, this event is still monumental so the citizens of Kansas can see where the millions of dollars that were spent to bring this man to justice have gone and what was found out about him. If you can, watch this sentencing. Every minute of it will be riveting.
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