Sentencing Judge Said Serial Killer Ted Bundy Would Have Made a Great Lawyer, Tapes Reveal

Theodore Bundy after his original arrest, July 1978. Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Theodore Robert Bundy was one of the most notorious killers of the 20th century.

But according to the South Florida judge who sentenced him to death in 1979, Bundy also would have been a terrific lawyer.

The comment by then-Dade Circuit Judge Edward D. Cowart was a standout moment in a new Netflix documentary, "Conversations With a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes," released Jan. 24 on the streaming service.

"You’re a bright young man," Cowart said in a post-sentencing exchange with Bundy, a former law student-turned-serial killer and rapist. "You’d have made a good lawyer. I’d have loved to have you practice in front of me. But you went another way, partner."

That other way led to infamy, as federal and state law enforcement agencies linked Bundy to the slayings of more than 30 women and at least one child in California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington.

News reports at the time focused on Bundy's good looks, charm, intelligence, quick wit and widespread disbelief that the handsome, well-dressed man strangled and sexually assaulted dozens of victims, decapitating some.

The Netflix documentary shows Bundy giving media interviews, joking with reporters and appearing confident he would defeat the charges against him. At other times, it shows his clever banter evoking laughter from the courtroom.

That charm was not lost on Cowart, who presided over Bundy's 1979 South Florida trial for the murder of two female students at Florida State University's Chi Omega sorority house in Tallahassee.

The judge, who died in 1987, seemed conflicted, using now-iconic language to describe Bundy's crime, while at the same time offering a glimpse at his more nuanced feelings about the man.

“The court finds that both of these killings were indeed heinous, atrocious and cruel. And that they were extremely wicked, shockingly evil, vile and the product of a design to inflict a high degree of pain and utter indifference to human life," Cowart said at the end of the trial. "This court, independent of, but in agreement with the advisory sentence rendered by the jury does hereby impose the death penalty upon the defendant Theodore Robert Bundy. “

But while Bundy was still standing before the court for sentencing, Cowart added, “Take care of yourself, young man,” to which the defendant responded, “Thank you.”

“I say that to you sincerely. Take care of yourself," Cowart told him. "It’s a tragedy for this court to see such a total waste, I think, of humanity that I have experienced in this court. ... I don’t have any animosity to you. I want you to know that. “