Three-day BTK Sentencing to Reveal More Details

By Tina Susman
Staff Correspondent
August 17, 2005

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WICHITA, Kan. -- Wichitans know that for 30 years, Dennis L. Rader prowled their streets as the BTK killer, stalking victims he called "projects," hiding in their closets, then binding, torturing and slowly killing them when they arrived home. They know he got his sexual kicks watching people die, including an 11-year-old girl he dangled from a pipe in her basement after murdering her parents and brother.

They know this because Rader admitted it on June 26, when he pleaded guilty to 10 murders that had haunted the city since January 1974, when the girl, Josephine Otero, was found hanged in her house.

Nevertheless, prosecutors plan to present even more gruesome evidence today at an elaborate sentencing hearing that, depending on one's view, will be a catharsis for the city and the victims' families, or an ego-fest for the district attorney and for Rader, 60, who admits to loving the limelight.

Georgia Cole, spokeswoman for the Sedgwick County district attorney's office, said people should hear more than Rader's "extremely sanitized" version of events, and that families deserve the chance to confront him. In addition, since the death penalty was not in place during Rader's 1974 to 1991 murders, prosecutors want to ensure the worst details come out so Rader gets the harshest sentence: life in prison with no chance of parole for 40 years.

"When Dennis Rader stood up and gave his recitation of the facts, no one was allowed to question anything he said. None of the statements he made were contested," Cole said. For instance, Rader, in a prideful, matter-of-fact tone, said he tried to make some victims comfortable by placing pillows under their heads before strangling them, or by giving toys to two children before murdering their mother.

"This is a man who has admitted murdering 10 people. Why does everyone assume he would not lie?"

Cole said. Three days have been set aside for the sentencing. It will start with prosecutors' presentations and family members' statements. Rader's court-appointed attorneys and possibly Rader himself will speak. Two seats are reserved for Rader's relatives, but there is no indication any will attend.

His wife of 34 years, Paula, divorced Rader after his February arrest. She and their two adult children say they had no idea of Rader's activities, which he carried out while living a seemingly law-abiding life as a church leader, Boy Scout leader, and code-compliance officer for a Wichita suburb.

Rader, who over the years taunted police with messages signed with his chosen moniker -- BTK for Bind, Torture, Kill -- was caught when one of those messages led to a computer at his church. In a prison interview that aired Friday on NBC's "Dateline," he admitted he enjoyed reading about himself in the paper and felt "like a star" because of the attention since his arrest.

It is that pride in his crimes, and the agony they caused Wichita, that has left some people, including police who worked the case, uncomfortable about giving Rader the spotlight again.

"He's going to jail forever. I question whether it's necessary to put the community through this," said Richard LaMunyon, Wichita's police chief from 1976 to 1989. "Let's just close the door and end it."

Retired Bronx homicide commander Vernon Geberth, who helped Wichita investigators in the 1980s, called the hearing "despicable," saying it would give Rader the publicity he craves while forcing families to relive the painful past. "Every time these people try to get some peace, bang, it'll pop up as a movie of the week," he said.

Cole, though, said that family members have expressed eagerness to attend and that representatives of each of Rader's 10 victims plans to speak.

The differences show the hold Rader's crimes have on a city that for years thought BTK had gone away, only to have him resurface last year with a series of taunting messages.

"It would be very difficult to articulate the amount of fear and trauma this guy caused," said Paul Morrison, the district attorney of Johnson County in suburban Kansas City, who is of two minds about the hearing. In his experience, he said, some victims' relatives want to know everything, while others find the details too painful.

"It's hard to make a call on this case," Morrison said.

Not so for one woman who suspects she was stalked by Rader in 1991 when she says a man using BTK's methods harassed her. The hearing might ensure other killers get caught more quickly, she said.

"There is some value to the public to realize that this is what a serial killer looks like, and acts like," said the woman, who said she still fears for her safety. "It could be somebody you know. It could be somebody you're married to."

Copyright (c) 2005, Newsday, Inc.

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