Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Charles Starkweather & Caril Fugate

A Plea for Mercy

As time went on and Charlie realized that Caril was trying to position herself as an unwilling hostage instead of his girlfriend, he began to implicate her in the crimes. He suggested that she was responsible for several of the murders and all of the mutilations.

"She could have escaped at any time she wanted," Starkweather said. "I left her alone lots of times. Sometimes when I would go in and get hamburgers she would be sitting in the car with all of the guns. There would have been nothing to stop her from running away."

One of the defense attorneys with a gift for acting, Clement Gaughan, made a very emotional plea. "This boy is a product of our society. Our society that spawned this individual is looking for a scapegoat. Caril Fugate should get the same punishment as this lad, and I can tell you right now that she is never going to get the death penalty. His life, my life are almost parallels until our nineteenth birthday. I stand here and weep unashamedly. I hated everybody and everything and I could lick anybody. Society treated me exactly as it treated Charles Starkweather, but the good Lord gave me, possibly, a little better parents.

"I will take you to the death house so you can see him with his trousers cut to the knees, with his arms bare, his head shaved, with electrodes attached. And when the switch is pulled, you will see the electricity snap and the smoke come from his head, his hair stand on end as the electricity goes through his body. You will see him jerk in the straps and see him fall forward. This is your responsibility, not mine. Ladies and gentleman, I ask you for the life of Charles Starkweather."

Unfortunately, Gaughan was not Clarence Darrow; Charlie was neither Nathan Leopold nor Dickie Loeb; and there was a jury of twelve people, not just a judge to make that decision.

The jury made its decision within twenty-four hours: guilty on both counts of first degree murder. The men and women of the jury specifically asked for the death penalty. Their request was granted June 25th, 1959.

Starkweather as prisoner
Starkweather as prisoner

At Caril's trial, the defense was built upon her being a hostage, forced by Starkweather to go with him on his murder spree. It was not a very credible defense and, she, like Charlie, was found guilty of murder on November 28, 1958.

Because she was a fourteen-year-old girl, she received a life sentence instead of the electric chair. She was sent to the Nebraska Center for Women where she served her sentence until her parole in June of 1976.

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