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Wretched Sisters

Examining Gender and Capital Punishmend


Mary Welek Atwell

Since the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976, fourteen women have been put to death in the United States. The criminal justice system defines crimes committed by women in a particularly gendered context. Wretched Sisters is unique in its analysis of the legal and cultural circumstances that determine why a small number of women are sentenced to death and provides a detailed account of how these fourteen women came to be subjected to the ultimate punishment.
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Chapter 8. The “Monster”


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Aileen Wuornos

Press coverage at the time of her 2002 execution noted that Aileen Wuornos, “the first female serial killer,” had been the subject of three books, two made-for-TV movies, and an opera. Since then, Charlize Theron, as an uncanny look-alike for Wuornos, won an Academy Award for her performance in Monster. That motion picture, which effectively ended when the main character was arrested, attempted to portray the desperation that lay behind the murders of seven men along Florida highways between December 1989 and November 1990. Other productions and especially the “true crime” books emphasized the sensational aspects of the case. These examples from the media show that Aileen Wuornos attracted an extraordinary amount of publicity. The events were titillating. She was a prostitute who worked the interstates. The victims were her customers. Her partner helped the police to extract a confession. The very sordidness of the story seemed the source of its fascination. And during the 1990s, the media loved to feature stories about serial killers. The first woman to be put into that category provided a “fresh take” on the theme.1

At the time of Wornos’s arrest, trials, and convictions, most of those who devoured the gruesome details expressed little sympathy for a woman who not only admitted to seven murders but who cursed in the courtroom, lashed out at her own attorneys, demonstrated no remorse, and showed no real disposition to ← 189 | 190...

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