Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Boston Strangler

The Jury Speaks

Once the Commonwealth was satisfied that DeSalvo was the Strangler, very sticky legal issues had to be resolved before any trial could be held. Basically, DeSalvo's confession was inadmissible as evidence.

Bailey put it this way to Brooke and Bottomly: "When I met Albert, there were enough indictments pending against him to pretty much ensure that he'd never be walking the streets again. Now, I've helped him disclose that he's committed multiple murder, it's a certainty he'll never be released. Show me some way to avoid the risk of execution — I'll run the risk of conviction, but not execution – and you can have anything you want. I know damn well that neither of you really wants to see him killed. Tell me, is that asking too much?"

Brooke didn't think Bailey was asking for too much, but he wanted to think about it some more. At this point he was a solid candidate for the Senate and they agreed that it would be a mistake to have the DeSalvo trial in the midst of the campaign. At least Bailey could get a ruling on whether DeSalvo was mentally competent to stand trial. And despite the objections of Dr. Robey, DeSalvo was found competent to stand trial.

Desalvo, after competency hearing
Desalvo, after competency hearing

Finally on January 10, 1967, Albert DeSalvo was tried on the Green Man charges. Bailey explained that "the basic strategy by which I hoped to convince a jury to find Albert not guilty by reason of insanity was simple: I would attempt to use the 13 murders he had committed as the Boston Strangler to show the extent of his insanity. To do this, I would try to get both his confession and its corroboration by police into evidence... Certainly the problem was unusual: I wanted the right to defend a man for robbery and assault by proving that he had committed 13 murders."

Donald L. Conn led the prosecution team, F. Lee Bailey the defense in Judge Cornelius Moynihan's court. Conn called four Green Man victims with very similar stories. DeSalvo would either jimmy the door or con his way in to the apartment verbally. He would tie the woman, strip her and fondle her breasts, demand fellatio or cunnilingus, but stopped short of rape. He used a knife or toy gun to ensure cooperation. After he was done, he took money and jewelry from the victims. Bailey did not cross-examine the witnesses because he felt he had nothing to gain by doing so.

Bailey said in his opening statement that he had no doubts that DeSalvo committed the crimes as charged and the only "issue was whether the Commonwealth could prove that he was not insane at the time." Bailey brought forth his expert witnesses to testify to Albert's paranoid schizophrenia. They said that while Albert knew what he was doing was wrong, "his Green Man crimes were the result of an irresistible impulse."

Conn pointed out that the non-sexual aspects of the crimes – jimmying the locks, lying to gain entrance and the theft of valuables – were not a result of irresistible impulse. The psychiatrist agreed that only the sexual assaults were.

The jury thought about it for four hours, found DeSalvo guilty on all counts and sentenced him to life in prison. The psychiatric help he wanted was denied.

Bailey was very angry: "My goal was to see the Strangler wind up in a hospital, where doctors could try to find out what made him kill. Society is deprived of a study that might help deter other mass killers who lived among us, waiting for the trigger to go off inside them."


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