Judy Malinowski was burned alive and testified at her killer's trial from the grave. She said that he didn't deserve the death penalty.

Burns victim Judy Malinowski intubated in the hospital with her mother, Bonnie Bowes
Judy Malinowski suffered burns to 95% of her body but survived for two years. She's pictured in the hospital with her mother, Bonnie Bowes, by her side.Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films/Paramount+
  • Judy Malinowski was burned alive by her boyfriend after he poured gasoline over her body.

  • She died of her injuries — but had already testified against her killer from her hospital bed.

  • Her mother and other loved ones talk about Malinowski's tragic case in a documentary.

With 95% of her body covered in burns, Judy Malinowski's pain was apparent when she testified from her hospital bed against the man who poured gasoline over her body and set her aflame.

The gut-wrenching video of her deposition was played in court a year after her death at the sentencing of her on-and-off boyfriend Michael Slager. Slager faced the death penalty for aggravated murder.

Still, Malinowski showed her killer mercy from the grave. She told the judge that she didn't want Slager to be executed for his crime but to spend the rest of his life in jail.

"Judy was not an angry or vengeful person," her mother, Bonnie Bowes, told Insider. "That was her true nature."

Malinowski became one of the first people to testify at her own murder trial.

'Judy's Law' was established in Malinowski's honor to protect other people affected by domestic violence

Malinowski's story is told in the 2022 documentary "The Fire That Took Her," which will be available to stream on Paramount+ on May 23.  It chronicles her fate — and fight for justice — in a series of interviews with the 31-year-old's loved ones, including Bowes.

It also features the legal teams of both the victim and perpetrator, and it pays tribute to Malinowski by highlighting her legacy, known as Judy's Law. The legislation, introduced in her home state of Ohio in 2017, imposes more serious and longer sentences to attackers like Slager who intentionally disfigure their victims.

Malinowski, shown before she was attacked, with one of her daughters in her arms. Her other daughter watches from a staircase.
Malinowski, pictured before the attack, was the loving mom of two girls.Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films/Paramount+

"Judy's courage and strength made me so proud," Bowes said, noting that her daughter's pain medication had been reduced so she was deemed more "lucid and reliable" when she delivered her deposition from the burns unit.

"She spoke up, not only for herself but for other people affected by domestic violence," Bowes went on.

Slager doused Malinowski with gasoline on August 2, 2015, during an argument outside a gas station in Gahanna, Ohio. Malinowski gave evidence that her boyfriend shouted, "See what I'll do to you, bitch" and "How do you like this?" while emptying a can of gasoline over her entire body.

"He backed away from me for about 30 seconds, and I kept telling him to please help me and stop," she said in her testimony.

As security-camera footage of the attack showed, Slager went to his truck to get a cigarette lighter. Malinowski described how he walked toward her while she was "crying and begging for help" and "lit me on fire."

"After I was set on fire, he backed away, and his eyes just turned black," she recalled in the deposition. She said that he ignored her screams and "did nothing" before witnesses rushed to the scene carrying fire extinguishers.

Bowes told Insider that she took a dislike to Slager when Malinowski introduced them in January 2015. She said that her daughter had successfully overcome an addiction to opioids but was still vulnerable.

"I thought, 'No, this isn't good,'" Bowes said. "I looked at Judy and thought, 'She's clean and sober. She's beautiful.' His intentions did not seem right to me."

Doctors in the burn unit said that Malinowski would die within hours of the fire

Bowes said the relationship was "toxic." She said Slager beat up Malinowski, who repeatedly called the police but never pressed charges. She said her daughter relapsed and depended on Slager for money to buy heroin, which Bowes said she was unaware of at the time. "He was very manipulative," she said.

Bowes — who cared for Malinowski's two young daughters after she died — said that she drove to the hospital as soon as she learned that her daughter was injured. "They said there had been an accident, and they wanted to know if we had any religious preferences not to intubate Judy," she said.

She gave her permission and was later allowed to visit. Malinowski's blisters were covered with ointment and dressings. The head of the burn unit told Bowes that 95% of her body was covered in burns and they expected her to die within hours.

"Other people said they couldn't recognize her, but all I could see was my child," Bowes told Insider. "I kept screaming, 'Tell me there's hope!' but nobody would."

Malinowski was in a coma for eight months. She was in excruciating pain when she gained consciousness, especially when her dressings were changed twice a day.

Michael Slager flanked by his lawyers and a police officer at his sentencing for aggravated murder in July 2018.
Michael Slager, second from left, flanked by his lawyers during his July 2018 sentencing to life in prison for aggravated murder.Courtesy of MTV Documentary Films/Paramount+

Malinowski was devastated when Slager agreed to a plea deal in 2016. His lawyers entered a so-called Alford plea, in which he didn't admit guilt but acknowledged there was enough evidence for a jury to convict him.

He was sentenced to 11 years for aggravated arson. "Judy was all prepped, but she didn't get to testify because there was no contest," Bowes said.

"Michael's strategy was to silence her," she said. "Judy is not the only woman whose abuser took that kind of plea and never got to tell her story publicly."

Malinowski's pain medication was lowered before she gave her deposition

But Malinowski did not give up. She knew that she was dying, and when she did, Slager could be charged with murder. She was "determined to testify and prove that Michael had acted on purpose," Bowes said. She filmed the deposition — which included questioning by the prosecution and a cross-examination by the defense — from her hospital bed. She reduced her pain medication before she testified so she'd be considered a more reliable witness.

Bowes said that the effort took its toll on her daughter's body. She succumbed to her injuries on June 27, 2017, nearly two years after the attack.

But she was to get justice from the grave. The film of her deposition was played at Slager's sentencing hearing in July 2018. He had changed his plea at the last minute from not guilty to guilty of aggravated murder. Even though the offense carried the death penalty, Malinowski asked for leniency. Slager was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole.

"Judy had forgiven him, and it was rightfully her decision," Bowes said. "I know that she was hoping that he would somehow find God or figure out his way out of the darkness."

One of Judy's two young daughters helps the Ohio governor sign "Judy's Law" in 2017, shortly before her mother's death.
Malinowski's younger daughter helps John Kasich, the governor of Ohio at the time, sign "Judy's Law" in 2017, shortly before her mother died.AP

She said the family honored Malinowski by establishing the nonprofit Judy's Foundation shortly before she died. It is campaigning to change laws relating to domestic violence at a federal level.

"Judy's legacy should be that with strength and courage, you can overcome bad situations and stand up for change," Bowes said. "She fought hard to overcome challenges that were deemed impossible."

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