Man Pleads Guilty to Murder after Dousing Girlfriend with Gas, Setting Her on Fire

An Ohio man pleaded guilty Thursday to murder charges after admitting he doused his ex-girlfriend with gasoline and set her on fire with a cigarette lighter. The ex-girlfriend, Judy Malinowski, 33, died 700 days after the attack. Prosecutor Ron O’Brien said Malinowski endured “five dozen surgeries” over that nearly two-year period, but medical professionals could not save her life.

The victim’s ex-boyfriend, Michael Slager (not to be confused with the ex-South Carolina police officer of the same name), was tried and convicted of aggravated arson while Malinowski was still alive. After her death, prosecutors brought murder charges against Slager.

“The Coroner found that the cause of [Malinowski’s] death was a proximate result of [Slager’s attack],” prosecutor O’Brien, said, despite the nearly two-year gap between the attack and the victim’s death.

A grand jury agreed that Slager was eligible for the death penalty. His guilty plea to murder charges resulted in a life sentence. 

WBNS-TV of Columbus, Ohio, reported that Slager initially said the fire which ultimately killed Malinowski was an accident and that he himself was injured trying to save her. Surveillance footage indicated that was a lie, prosecutors indicated during the sentencing hearing. Before she died, Malinowski said Slager merely looked on with an “evil” stare as she screamed for his help during the attack.

During Thursday’s sentencing hearing, Slager said he was on medication for bipolar disorder and admitted guilt. Prosecutors said an argument between Slager and Malinowski precipitated the attack. Prosecutors said a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, who happened to be nearby the scene of the attack, prevented Slager from leaving the scene of the attack.

While she was alive, Malinowski sat for interviews with local reporters. She said Slager deserved a life sentence back when he was initially convicted of lesser aggravated arson charges.

Malinowski’s mother told the court during the plea hearing that the family has received an “eternal sentence” of living the rest of their lives without Judy’s presence.  The mother also said Judy Malinowski did not want Slager to face the death penalty. “Judy was a forgiving person,” she said. “I know that the charges that the state asked for would not be something my daughter would have wanted. Judy wanted Michael to not face the death penalty; her hope was that he would find God somewhere between now and when he meets her. That was her hope, and that was very generous of her.”

Malinowski left behind two daughters.

Turning to Slager, Malinowski’s mother said, “She didn’t want you to die, She suffered 700 days. And she suffered.  They did 60 surgeries with no skin on 90% of her body. None. It was just bloody, raw, ligaments, and muscle. She wasn’t even breathing at the scene . . . and she fought . . . and she suffered beyond what anybody could imagine.”

She sad the only way to understand her daughter’s pain was to picture a burn from a stone and then to multiply it over one’s entire body. She said the only amount of medication necessary to alleviate her daughter’s pain would have been a lethal dose.

The defense said it was difficult to reconcile Slager’s care for Malinowski during their relationship with what happened during the attack. The defense said a bipolar outburst is what led to the attack and that the attack was not premeditated.

Slager, though his defense team, apologized to both the Malinowski family and to his own family.

[Image via screengrab from WBNS-TV]

Aaron Keller is an attorney licensed in two states. He holds a juris doctor degree from the University of New Hampshire School of Law and a broadcast journalism degree from Syracuse University. During law school, he completed legal residencies in the Office of the New Hampshire Attorney General and in a local prosecutor’s office. He was employed as a summer associate in the New Hampshire Department of Safety, which manages the state police, and further served as a summer law clerk for a New York trial judge. Before law school, Keller worked for television stations in New York and in the Midwest, mostly as an evening news anchor and investigative reporter. His original reporting on the Wisconsin murder of Teresa Halbach was years later featured in the Netflix film "Making A Murderer."

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