In a testament of indomitable spirit, Judy Malinowski’s voice echoed from beyond the grave as she testified against her ex-boyfriend, Michael Slager, in his 2018 murder trial. Despite clinging to life on a hospital bed, her body ravaged by excruciating burns that covered 95% of her being and an amputated arm revealing the bone beneath, Malinowski, then 33, summoned her strength to recount the horrifying incident to the courts via video. It was on that fateful day, August 2, 2015, during an argument, when Slager callously drenched her in gasoline and set her ablaze.
In her pretrial deposition, recorded just five months prior to her untimely passing on June 27, 2017, Malinowski bravely denounced Slager as “evil” with every fiber of her being. This remarkable three-hour testimony marked her as one of the pioneering individuals in the United States to posthumously testify in their own murder trial.
The haunting footage capturing her poignant account of the heinous attack is now showcased in the emotionally-charged MTV documentary, “The Fire That Took Her,” set to premiere on Paramount+ this Tuesday. This powerful documentary unravels the depths of her unimaginable suffering and stands as a testament to her resilience and unwavering spirit.
Taking place in broad daylight at a Speedway gas station near Columbus, Ohio, Malinowski recounts the heart-wrenching incident in the film, “He got these cans of gasoline that he had kept in the back of his truck.”
“He ran around me and started pouring gasoline. He started at my head and worked his way down,”continuing her account, she reveals the chilling detail that gasoline had also entered her throat during the horrifying incident.
“I looked at him and he pulled a lighter out of his pocket, and he started walking towards me,” the charred woman, her pain medications intentionally reduced to enable her testimony, solemnly said.
“I just remember crying and begging for help, and he lit me on fire.”
Eyewitnesses swiftly contacted the police, prompting Slager to frantically grab a fire extinguisher in a desperate bid to extinguish the raging flames. The horrifying ATM surveillance footage captures the haunting sight of Malinowski stumbling to the ground, enveloped in an ominous orange blaze.
Just moments before the assault, Malinowski, then 31, and Slager, a 40-year-old career criminal with a disturbing history of charges including domestic violence, sexual battery, child endangerment, stalking, and rape, found themselves embroiled in a heated argument. (The specific nature of their disagreement remains undisclosed).
Slager had made a stop at the gas station to purchase a carton of cigarettes while en route to the Parkside addiction treatment center, where Malinowski had a scheduled admission for inpatient drug rehabilitation.
Years before the devastating attack, when Malinowski was 26 and newly divorced, she battled with an addiction to prescription painkillers after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer.
During that period, Malinowski made the difficult decision to send her young daughters, Kaylynn and Maddie, to live with her mother, Bonnie Bowes, and her sister Danielle Gorman, respectively.
By early 2015, Malinowski had successfully overcome her addiction and regained custody of her beloved girls. However, after entering a relationship with Slager in April of that year, he introduced her to the destructive world of heroin.
“[Michael] is the one that got [heroin] for me the first time,” says Malinowski during cross-examination, to Slager’s defense attorney, Bob Krapence,. “He bought it for me everyday. He would bring home a gram of heroine.”
Within the documentary, Bowes reveals that Slager, who himself did not abuse drugs, employed narcotics as a means to manipulate her daughter.
“That was his way of controlling her so that he could abuse her,” Bowes says. “If he was bringing the drugs, he had power over her.”
Tragically, Malinowski never reached the addiction treatment facility as planned on that fateful day. Instead, she was swiftly transported to Ohio University Wexner Medical Center, where healthcare professionals held little hope for her survival.
“I’ve seen plenty of burns to her degree. I can’t say I’ve seen many that survive past a few days,” says Malinowski’s nurse.
“In the burn world we have an equation for mortality, which is based on the patient’s age and percent burn,” she continued, “In Judy’s case, she was 31 and approximately 80% burned. So that made her 110% mortality.”
Upon being taken to the hospital himself, Slager provided authorities with a dubious explanation, claiming that the burning was an accident. According to his account, he alleged that Malinowski had drenched him in soda, provoking him to retaliate by dumping gasoline on her. Slager further stated that after their tumultuous exchange, Malinowski sat on the grass near the gas station and requested a cigarette. He then claimed that as he bent down to light the cigarette, her entire body suddenly burst into flames.
“I walked over to give her a light and that was it,” he told detectives in police body camera footage featured in the film.
“She went up [in flames] and I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to be like that.”
Promptly following the incident, Slager was swiftly arrested and faced charges of felonious assault and aggravated arson. He received an 11-year prison sentence, which, at that time, represented the maximum penalty for the crime in Ohio. It is worth noting that Slager’s conviction and sentence were later modified following Malinowski’s tragic passing.
However, despite the miraculous feat of regaining consciousness after an eight-month coma, Malinowski found the imposed punishment unsatisfactory.
Joined by Bowes and her daughters, she embarked on a mission to advocate for justice by petitioning the state to pass House Bill 63, which has since become known as Judy’s Law. This pivotal legislation aimed to enhance the maximum sentence for individuals who intentionally maim or disfigure others through felonious assault, proposing an increase of 5 to 20 years in prison terms.
“House Bill 63 should be passed because it destroyed my life, my family’s life, my kids’ life, everyone around us’ life,” argued Malinowski in the film. “And the laws of justice are just not fair.”
Officially enacted in September 2017, Judy’s Law came to fruition merely three months after Malinowski’s tragic demise in June of that year.
Following her untimely passing, Slager, who had been facing the possibility of the death penalty, opted to enter a guilty plea in her murder case. During his sentencing hearing, the court played the impactful video of Malinowski’s testimony, serving as a poignant reminder of the profound impact she had on seeking justice.
“I live with horrible pain every day, I would never wish upon anybody,” she stated.
“I would like to see [Slager] charged with murder and do a life sentence,” she said in the court in the film . “I think that he deserves that.”
In agreement with the severity of the crime, the judge pronounced a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for Slager.
Currently serving his sentence at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility in Lucasville, Slager is confined to the consequences of his actions.
Although Malinowski’s daughters, now in their teenage years, contend that a lifetime behind bars falls short of an adequate punishment for Slager’s abhorrent transgression, they take solace in the fact that their late mother’s courageous testimony played a pivotal role in ensuring her murderer’s incarceration.
“My mom taught me that you can stand up to anybody,” says Kaylynn.