Burnt alive

Ashes to ashes

Real People - - CONTENTS -

But her last breath damned him

Her voice was weak and rasp­ing, but Judy Mali­nowski was in­sis­tent as the doc­tors and nurses gath­ered around her hospi­tal bed.

They couldn’t be­lieve their ears. She lay in the bed, hav­ing suf­fered hor­rific burns to 90 per cent of her body, but now she was telling them she didn’t want any more painkillers.

It would mean un­bear­able agony – she knew that. But there was some­thing she needed to say…

Her mother, Bon­nie, gazed at what was left of her poor daugh­ter and wept silent tears.

That burnt wo­man had once been beau­ti­ful. In fact, Judy had been crowned Miss Al­bany, Ohio.

Now, the gor­geous face looked like that of a melted doll, with just a point for a nose and eyes al­most fused closed. Her blonde hair was gone and her ears had fallen off.

The burns on her back and but­tocks were open wounds that the doc­tors couldn’t heal. Judy had to spend some of the time on her front, heav­ily se­dated, just to give them a chance to im­prove.

But here she was, vol­un­teer­ing for more agony. Why?

It was al­most a year ear­lier that Judy’s life had changed for ever – and, by then, she’d al­ready been through so much.

In her 20s, she’d been di­ag­nosed with ovar­ian can­cer. She’d been de­ter­mined to fight the dis­ease for the sake of her two lit­tle girls, Kay­lyn and Madi­son.

And Judy, 33, won the bat­tle – but it left her with an ad­dic­tion to pre­scrip­tion drugs.

That was a fight she’d been de­ter­mined to win, too, and she signed up for re­hab. But some­times it was so hard…

The morn­ing of 2 Au­gust 2015 started as a nor­mal day. Her boyfriend, Michael Slager dropped her off at re­hab, agree­ing to meet up a few hours later at a nearby petrol sta­tion in Ga­hanna, Ohio.

After her ap­point­ment, she caught Michael’s eye across the road. There he was, wait­ing in the petrol sta­tion, as he’d said.

‘Hiya,’ she smiled un­cer­tainly, and then she dropped her head. The ses­sions could be drain­ing.

Michael didn’t un­der­stand that. It had been a long day, and she didn’t fancy a grilling. Sud­denly, they were ar­gu­ing on the petrol sta­tion fore­court.

Judy chucked her soft drink over him… and then things es­ca­lated ter­ri­fy­ingly.

At first, the peo­ple stand­ing around re­acted with amused cu­rios­ity or em­bar­rass­ment. Just a lovers’ spat, they thought.

But then, their ex­pres­sions changed to stunned hor­ror. In full view of ev­ery­one, Michael grabbed the pump hose and sprayed Judy with petrol, start­ing at her head and soak­ing her right down to her feet.

The fuel went down her throat, caus­ing a burn­ing pain as she screamed for help and begged him to stop.

But, de­spite her pleas, Michael flicked on his lighter and set her ablaze.

Screams filled the air as Judy stag­gered on to a grassy area, en­gulfed in flames.

Then Michael grabbed a fire ex­tin­guisher and tried to put the fire out, sus­tain­ing burns to his hands in the at­tempt.

But it was too late.

Sud­denly shocked into life, the peo­ple stand­ing around all started call­ing 911 at once.

‘Some­body just set a wo­man on fire,’ one cried. ‘She ig­nited im­me­di­ately.’ When asked if she was still on fire, the man replied, ‘He just grabbed a fire ex­tin­guisher. I mean, it’s bad.’

Michael stood watch­ing as the po­lice ar­rived to cuff him, and the am­bu­lance car­ry­ing Judy sped away. When she ar­rived in the emer­gency room of Ohio State Univer­sity’s Wexner Med­i­cal Cen­tre, she was burned so hor­ri­bly that parts of her body had melted away.

The medics mea­sured the rest of her life in min­utes. But, against all odds, Judy sta­bilised, and so be­gan her gru­elling treat­ment.

In all, Judy en­dured more than 50 op­er­a­tions, ag­o­nis­ing treat­ments and in­fec­tions. She was im­mo­bile and couldn’t breathe with­out a ven­ti­la­tor. Nurses at Ohio State said they couldn’t re­call any other pa­tient who had sur­vived so long with such se­vere burns. Yet, still she clung on. Judy’s mum, Bon­nie, who vis­ited ev­ery day, was des­per­ate for her daugh­ter to pull through. At first, Bon­nie screamed at doc­tors, ‘Tell me there’s hope!’ be­cause they wouldn’t even let her see Judy.

Bon­nie was even­tu­ally al­lowed in and warned she wouldn’t even recog­nise her own daugh­ter. ‘They were right,’ she said later. ‘It just didn’t look like a hu­man be­ing. But all I could see was my baby in that bed. All I could see was that she was alive.’ When re­porters asked Bon­nie if Judy would want to live with her ter­ri­ble in­juries, Bon­nie re­acted with fury.

‘Would she want to be like this? Would she want to go on? She would,’ she shouted. ‘She’d want to stay to help some­one – any­one. Do you

know why she was Miss New Al­bany? Be­cause she was the sweet­est kid there was.’

Then one day, eight months after the at­tack, Judy woke from her long sleep.

Bon­nie could hardly bear to speak, scared she would break the spell and send her back to obliv­ion.

The first thing Judy saw was Bon­nie’s tear­ful face.

Then, slowly com­ing into fo­cus, were the pic­tures on the walls – Bon­nie had taped photos of Judy’s girls all around.

She’d told the nurses at the time, ‘If she re­motely wakes up out of this coma or knows any­thing of what’s go­ing on, or has any mem­ory, the first thing I want her to see is those two lit­tle girls.

‘If any­thing will mo­ti­vate some­one to live, a mom will – be­ing a mother will mo­ti­vate you to take care of those chil­dren.’

In De­cem­ber 2016, Michael Slager pleaded ‘no con­test’ to charges of felo­nious as­sault, ag­gra­vated ar­son and pos­ses­sion of crim­i­nal tools.

He claimed the fire was an ac­ci­dent, and that he adored Judy. The wit­nesses were wrong, he said. He’d only been light­ing a cig­a­rette when she caught fire. Be­sides, he had been badly in­jured him­self when he tried to put out the blaze.

Though he re­ceived the max­i­mum sen­tence of 11 years, his crime was so hor­rific there was a pub­lic out­cry. It didn’t seem enough, given that Judy’s life had been de­stroyed.

Ohio politi­cian Jim Hughes was de­ter­mined to change the law, to re­flect what had hap­pened.

And so, Judy made a de­ci­sion.

She would meet him and bear wit­ness to what had hap­pened to her. And to do that, she would have to come off her meds that helped numb the pain.

She needed a clear head... After the meet­ing, Hughes said she was a ‘very brave and courageous lady, and an in­spi­ra­tion for ev­ery­body’.

Be­cause of her tes­ti­mony, and her courage, the state of Ohio passed Judy’s Law in June 2017.

It meant six ad­di­tional years in prison for crimes that per­ma­nently dis­fig­ure or maim the vic­tim.

On 27 June, Judy died. But not be­fore one more act of courage had made her killer pay…

After speak­ing to Hughes, she’d agreed to give tes­ti­mony that would con­vict Michael of mur­der in the event of her in­evitable death.

Again, she’d weaned her­self off the pain-numb­ing drugs so she could be of sound mind to tes­tify.

In her rasp­ing voice, ru­ined from petrol burns, and from the hospi­tal bed that she never came home from, Judy spoke to pros­e­cu­tor War­ren Ed­wards in Jan­uary 2017. The video be­gan:

Q: What keeps you go­ing? A: My girls. Q; Have there been tough ques­tions from them? A: Mm-hmm... ‘When are you go­ing to look like my mom again?’ They’re too lit­tle, you know?

Then, Judy de­scribed the mo­ment of the shock­ing at­tack.

He ran around to me and started pour­ing gaso­line...

Some got into my throat as he did that.

That burned re­ally bad.

He pulled a lighter out of his pocket and he started walk­ing to­ward me. I just re­mem­ber cry­ing and beg­ging for help, and he lit me on fire. I don’t think words can de­scribe what it feels like to have your whole body set on fire. I can re­mem­ber fire on my face and eyes. I can re­mem­ber scream­ing for help… look­ing over and see­ing him stand­ing there star­ing at me with a look on his face… pure evil. There’s no other words to de­scribe it. It was like a thou­sand hot nee­dles pen­e­trat­ing my body. And then it got to the point that I couldn’t see any­thing and ev­ery­one’s voices were sound­ing far away.

I thought for sure I was dy­ing. I just prayed to Je­sus to please for­give me for my sins and to take care of my chil­dren. That was when I blacked out…

Yet it was Judy’s wish that the man who did this to her should not face the death penalty.

‘A life sen­tence. I think he de­serves that,’ she said.

Just over a year after Judy’s death, her record­ing was played at Michael’s trial at Franklin County Court, Colum­bus, Ohio.

He pleaded guilty to ag­gra­vated mur­der and was sen­tenced to life in prison with no chance of pa­role.

Bon­nie said, after she had passed away, ‘That child suf­fered for two years to tell her own story. Who has the strength to do that?’

Bon­nie and step­dad Dan now care for Judy’s girls – Kay­lyn, 14, and 11-year-old Madi­son.

In court, Michael gave a brief apol­ogy to Judy’s fam­ily.

‘I’d like to think it was gen­uine,’ Bon­nie said. ‘Judy was so kind­hearted. She would have said, “Mom, that’s ac­cept­able. It’s what I would have wanted.”’

The fire felt like a thou­sand hot nee­dles

‘She was the sweet­est kid there was,’ says mum Bon­nie Pretty Judy had won a beauty pageant Madi­son and Kay­lyn lost their mother too soon

In­cred­i­bly brave: Judy tes­ti­fied from her hospi­tal bed Her boyfriend got life in jail with­out pa­role for the at­tack Bon­nie vis­ited her suf­fer­ing daugh­ter in hospi­tal daily

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