In Defense of Panel Asks Can Zac Efron Capture the Evil of Ted Bundy?

Ted Bundy's lawyer thinks Zac Efron could win an Academy Award if he can balance the evil and charm of the infamous serial killer.

We’re in the middle of the “Bundy-binge era,” Ted Bundy’s lawyer John Henry Browne told the panel at Oxygen’s In Defense Of press event. The panel discussion was moderated by legal analyst Beth Karas and defense attorneys Chris Tritico, Dan Cogdell and Browne. The upcoming crime series explores the relationships between defense attorneys and the seemingly indefensible. The series will be told by the defense lawyers on the cases of Timothy McVeigh, Jodi Arias, Branch Davidians member Clive Doyle, and serial killer Ted Bundy.

Joe Berlinger’s upcoming feature Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile will tell the Bundy story from the point of view of Elizabeth Kloepfer, the woman who ultimately got Bundy arrested. Played by Lily Collins, Bundy’s live-in lover Elizabeth told police about the strange things she saw, including crutches, a meat cleaver, surgical gloves, a sack full of women’s clothing and the plaster of Paris masks he used to lure victims on his murder spree. John Malkovich plays Edward Cowart, the judge at the 1979 trial. Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory, Hidden Figures) he will play lead prosecutor Larry Simpson.

Bundy’s defense attorney said Zac Efron, who will play Ted Bundy, could certainly catch “Bundy’s charm,” but if he can capture the evil inside Bundy, he “should win the Academy Award.”

Browne told the panel at the In Defense Of event he “never wanted to believe that someone could be born evil, it was sad to realize that that’s not true.” Browne has tried over 250 criminal cases to verdict, including such high-profile cases as Colton Harris-Moore, also known as “The Barefoot Bandit,” Benjamin Ng, a Wah Mee massacre defendant, Kandahar massacre perpetrator Sgt. Robert Bales, and Martin Pang.

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Browne had only been out of law school for three years when he was called in to defend Bundy. He spent five years defending the serial killer accused of killing over thirty women in four states. Through the course of the trial, he heard gruesome confessions. Bundy’s killings followed a pattern. He raped his victims before beating them to death. Bundy admitted to killing 36 young women across several states in the 1970s. Experts believe he may have killed more than 100.

Browne took the case, even though it was painful for him personally. His girlfriend, Deborah Beeler, was murdered around the same time Bundy was on his spree. He told the panel he did it in large part to honor her and because of their shared rejection of the death penalty. Browne said he encountered prosecutorial misdeeds, such was when the “Ted Task Force” tried to convince him that the “constitution doesn’t apply” in cases like Bundy’s.

Eleanor Cowell was 22 years old and unmarried when her son Theodore Bundy was born in Burlington, Vermont on November 24, 1946. He was delivered at a home for unwed mothers. Bundy became fascinated by knives when he was three and was a peeping tom by his teen years.

Bundy started his spree around 1974, when women in the Seattle area and Oregon went missing. Women also began disappearing in Utah when Bundy moved there for law school in late 1974. Bundy was convicted for kidnapping Carol DaRonch in 1975, and was sentenced to one to 15 years. He acted as his own lawyer when he was indicted for the murder of a young Colorado woman in 1977.

In spite of Browne’s best attempts, he says Bundy “didn’t trust me. He ran away three times.” Bundy jumped out a courthouse library window but was captured eight days later. He escaped custody again in December 1977. He made it all the way to Tallahassee, Florida, where he continued his spree.

Bundy attacked four residents at the Chi Omega sorority house at Florida State University, killing two of them. Bite marks on one of the bodies were a definitive match to Bundy at the trial. He murdered a 12-year-old girl named Kimberly Leach.

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Bundy was a celebrity during his trial. In July 1979, he was given the death penalty twice. He was executed on January 24, 1989, in an electric chair the Florida State Prison called “Old Sparky.” There was a fireworks display put on by a crowd outside the prison after the lever was pulled.

Browne did not attend the execution.

In Defense Of debuts on Monday, June 25 at 9 p.m. The Ted Bundy episode airs on July 15 at 8 p.m.