CHEATING THE HANGMAN IN LOUISIANA
Man avoids execution by admitting he killed, dismembered women
GRETNA, La. (AP) — A man who killed and dismembered at least three women in his apartment has pleaded guilty to murder to avoid the death penalty.
Charles Atwood, 41, of Metairie, pleaded guilty Thursday to two counts of first-degree murder and one of second-degree murder in the deaths of Susan Keller, 45, Dixie Esaki, 35, and Anjanette Penzica, 27.
Authorities still are trying to determine if Atwood killed other women in the New Orleans area and elsewhere, Jefferson Parish Assistant District Attorney Walter Amstutz said.
District Judge Ross LaDart sentenced Atwood to three consecutive life terms in prison.
Defense attorney Paul Fleming said that in light of the evidence against Atwood, he had little choice but to ask for the plea bargain.
Atwood's girlfriend, Patricia Biehn, 33, testified last year that she sat on the edge of their bathtub while Atwood cut off Keller's head. Biehn pleaded guilty to accessory to that murder but still faces first-degree murder charges in the other women's deaths. Biehn also has led investigators to Keller's severed head in a St. Charles Parish swamp and helped them find tools used in the dismemberment.
Amstutz said Biehn has a court appearance scheduled Oct. 20. "We will consider her cooperation as a factor in her case," he said.
Atwood, a print shop worker, and Biehn, an exotic dancer, picked up Keller in a bar on Dec. 19, 2001, and persuaded her to go to their apartment for group sex, Amstutz said.
There, Atwood strangled her and, placing a tarpaulin in the bathtub, cut off her head and dismembered and bathed the rest of her body. He stored the bloodied tarp in a security shed, where it was later found by detectives, Amstutz said.
Deputies found Keller's head near the Interstate 310 interchange at Airline Drive. Other parts were found in eastern New Orleans, but some are still missing, Amstutz said. DNA linked the parts to one another and to blood on the tarpaulin, he said.
Five weeks after Keller's death, Biehn persuaded Esaki, a former lover of hers, and Penzica to come home with her and Atwood for a sex party, Amstutz said. Atwood has told investigators that he met Esaki at the French Quarter bar where Biehn worked as a dancer, then met up with Esaki, Penzica and Biehn at another bar.
Amstutz said Atwood strangled and bludgeoned Penzica while Biehn and Esaki bathed together. When Esaki came out saw the body, Atwood choked her and hit her on the head.
Both victims' fingers were cut off, presumably to eliminate fingerprints, and their bodies were bound with duct tape and left in garbage bags in eastern New Orleans.
Detectives began to suspect Atwood after Esaki's boyfriend reported her missing and told police that she had been headed to Biehn's and Atwood's apartment, Amstutz said.