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Ted Bundy Prosecutor Visits UWF

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Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media
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Bob Dekle -- the man who prosecuted serial killer Ted Bundy’s final murder charge -- spoke of the experience at the University of West Florida Wednesday night.

Ted Bundy escaped custody in late 1977 while awaiting trial in the death of a young Colorado woman. He made his way to Florida where in January, 1978, he murdered two women at Florida State University’s Chi Omega sorority house.  A few days later he kidnapped and murdered 12-year-old Kimberly Leach in Lake City -- his youngest and final victim.

A week after Kimberly’s murder, Bundy was arrested in Pensacola, after being stopped on a stolen car report. After a physical altercation and brief chase with a Pensacola Police officer he was taken into custody. At the time, Bundy was on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

Dekle, now director of the Criminal Prosecution Clinic at the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law, served as the lead prosecutor for the Leach case in 1979. He’s the author of "The Last Murder: The Investigation, Prosecution, and Execution of Ted Bundy."

“I guess you could say I was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” says Dekle. “At that time I was the Assistant State Attorney, and in our office had the most experience.”

An eyewitness had placed Bundy at Kimberly's school shortly before she disappeared. Her skeletal remains were found near Suwannee River State Park. Bundy was brought to Orlando to stand trial. Rather than helping their case, Dekle says Bundy’s celebrity status provided what Dekle calls “a lot of static.”

“There was a tremendous amount of publicity, a tremendous amount of media interest, and that was a significant distraction,” Dekle says.

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Credit Pensacola Police Dept.
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Ted Bundy, shortly after his arrest in Pensacola (Feb. 1978)

Once the case went to trial, Dekle says he dealt more with Bundy’s attorneys than with Bundy himself – but he adds that a member of Ted Bundy’s legal counsel beforehand was – Ted Bundy, law school dropout.

“[I] dealt with him quite extensively in the pre-trial phase, because he represented himself most of the time in the pre-trial phase,” Dekle says. “He was affable, witty, talkative; and completely without a soul.”

Material evidence in the case included clothing fibers with a manufacturing error that were found in the van and on Leach's body. Those matched fibers from Bundy’s jacket at the time of his arrest. Ted Bundy was convicted of Kimberly Leach’s murder in early 1980 and received a third death sentence, after convictions and sentences for the deaths of the two Chi Omega members at FSU.

Dekle continued to work on the case afterward.

“Once you sign on for a death penalty case, you’re on it until the end,” said Dekle. “The appellate process, then there’s the post-conviction litigation in state court, [and] post-conviction litigation in the federal court system.”

With all appeals and a 24-hour stay of execution exhausted, Theodore Robert Bundy was put to death on January 24th, 1989 in Florida’s electric chair. Lead prosecutor Bob Dekle says the case taught him more about criminal law, than his time in law school.

“Forensic science, I had to learn how to present it and understand it,” says Dekle. “Evidentiary issues that I’d never dealt with before. At the end of two years, I kind of felt like there wasn’t anything I hadn’t had an opportunity to, at least, do a little bit if not quite a lot.”

Ted Bundy was suspected of killing three dozen young women in the 1970s. Shortly before his execution, after more than a decade of denials, he confessed to 30 homicides in seven states between 1974 and 1978. But, the true victim count remains unknown, and many believe the number could be much higher.