By Karl J. Paloucek
There’s been a lot of talk about Black Friday this year, about how it’s starting to creep its way into the Thanksgiving holiday. Some would say that’s evil, but it’s still far from the evil that Investigation Discovery is planning to serve up for that day. As part of its annual Black Widows Week, the network will cap off a weeklong marathon of Deadly Women with the Season 2 premiere of Facing Evil With Candice DeLong Friday, Nov. 25 at 9pm ET/PT. The series puts host DeLong, a veteran FBI investigator and psychiatric nurse, across the table from the women featured on Investigation Discovery’s popular series Deadly Women, to candidly discuss their cases and to give them an opportunity to confront their pasts. DeLong spoke with us recently about the upcoming season, and she had a lot to say about women, violence and the path that leads some women to commit murder.
How is Season 2 coming along?
We just finished up the last interview this week. I’m very, very pleased with the way things have gone. I really couldn’t be happier. I interview six different women whose stories were portrayed — or will be portrayed — on Deadly Women. Three of them always have admitted to their crimes. Those are really fascinating interviews where we get into, ‘OK, we know you did it. A jury convicted you. Now let’s talk about how you ended up at a place in your life where you committed this murder.’ I think it’s fascinating, because the majority of these women of from middle- or upper middle-class backgrounds. Very unlikely murderers. And yet, it happened.
Do you find that there’s a common link to the women that you interview for this series?
Yes. Almost all of the women I have spoken to … for the here and now, are clinically depressed. Some of them I think are that way because they’re kind of new into their sentences the first year or two. And these are the women that are serving life without parole, or 60-, 70-year sentences. You can just see it. You can feel it — it’s palpable, the sadness. … It’s a part of what happens to human beings after they suffer a tremendous loss, and for these women, the loss is, they pretty much threw their lives away.
And then another thing that I see is — especially in women that are deniers: ‘I didn’t do it. I was wrongly [accused and convicted].’ And they’re really into their sentences — like 10 or 15 years. They put a tremendous amount of energy into, I think, convincing themselves that they didn’t do this. … Thirdly, I would say almost all of the women … seem to have an agenda for sitting down with me. For some that are the deniers, it’s to tell their story to millions of viewers, and they’re hoping to convince someone that’s a lawyer to take up their case. Some of them, their agenda is — the responsible ones, the ones that say, ‘Yes, I did it’ — they want to get out their story to explain to people why that’s happened. And some of them even then still blame the victim, but most of them don’t.
Do you find that these women — if they have the insight and legitimate remorse after having served out a portion of their sentences — do they genuinely get “rehabilitated”?
The vast majority of people serving time in prison for murder actually would be safe if released. They’ve been in prison for 20 years. The person they killed, it was very specific motivation. And 20 years in prison, for most people — especially females — it’s not something they ever want to return to. We do know that a lot of people that were involved in murders that were released — they used to be released a lot more frequently in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s than now — went on to lead quiet, private lives, and to our knowledge never hurt anyone else. So that’s a statistical answer to your question.
A good number of people that have committed one murder for a very specific reason serve 20 years, which is the average time in prison for first-degree murder, get out and never re-offend. And I’m not talking about gangbangers or drug pushers — I’m not talking about habitual criminals. I’m talking about housewives who find out their husband is seeing someone and they shoot him. … Betty Broderick is who I’m talking about. … She was on more shows — she’s a bright woman. Chances of her ever killing again? Slim to none. Chances of her getting out? Slim to none — because she never showed remorse. She’s like, “He deserved it — what did you expect me to do?” And those people are dangerous. I’m always very leery when I’m interviewing someone — and I did interview a couple of them this year — that will be premiering in November — that are still blaming the victim, or saying they’re innocent and they have, “Absolutely no idea why all those people, including my own children, testified against me.” Or absolutely deny that documentation of an event — of, like, going to see a psychiatrist and talking about XYZ, the psychiatrist testifying and saying, “No, that didn’t happen.” Come on. … It can be quite entertaining, actually. I think it’s great — it’s showing the viewers people can actually be like this. They can actually lie to you right to your face when it’s 80 degrees and sunny outside, and look at you and say, “It’s raining,” and expect you to believe it.
That’s interesting — that wall of denial, expending all of that energy trying to convince themselves …
They have constructed a narrative in their mind that they can live with. And if that narrative didn’t happen, then things are going to be a lot rougher for them. If their narrative is, ‘OK, I did it, but why did this happen?’ [If] they see that they did it — they don’t live in denial — their chances of being paroled, quite possibly, if they ever get a parole hearing, are much higher. And they’ll be much, much safer, if not completely safe among the rest of society. It’s the deniers, and those that construct narratives that protect their minds so well from a horrible thing that happened — they took a life. And to me, if I was on a parole board, if they’re not even willing to say, ‘Yeah, I did a horrible thing,’ I would have a problem releasing them.
How has the process of rehabilitation for these women improved over the years? Is it any better now than it used to be?
I don’t like the word “rehabilitate” so much. I use the word — because of my background — “therapy.” Therapy used to be much more plentiful in prisons. If someone wanted it, or if the staff was insisting that they see a shrink … but because of today’s economy and how all the states are struggling, and any prison that’s run by state funds, as opposed to a privatized one, are really, really struggling, and one of the first things they cut out — psychotherapy. I interviewed a woman this Monday in Florida and she came across very depressed, to me. And so after the interview when she was gone, I asked the guard that was with us. I mentioned, “She seems very, very depressed.” Of course I didn’t know her before this event, and she’s only been incarcerated two and a half years. So I think that she’s struggling with the fact that she got a life sentence and is understandably depressed. I was shocked when the guard told me, “Yeah, they get therapy — the psychologist comes every six months.” That’s not therapy. I said, “What about group therapy in the prison? Like 12-step programs for people with drug problems? It can be very therapeutic to sit around in a group and share your story, and see where other people have been,” and she she said, “No, we just keep them busy all day so they don’t think about things.” Now that was one prison. In another prison, where I interviewed a woman last year, Jennifer Reali, which was an incredible interview — very insightful, intelligent woman. She’s the one whose sentence was commuted after our interview aired and she was given a parole hearing. A lot of therapy. In fact, after the interview, the crew — we were all outside. I said, ‘she’s had so much therapy, it’s pouring out of her.’ I know the words. I know what therapists like to hear. I think, in her case, it happened to be sincere. But that was a completely different state. One was Florida. One was Colorado. And it was also before the recession got terribly, terribly bad, and Jennifer had been in prison, at that point, 22 years. In answer to your question, the answer is not lately.
Violence among women has been escalating exponentially in recent years. Do you have any insight into that rising phenomenon?
Yes. Violence is growing rapidly among women and teens. Has been for years. … My personal opinion is — I was raised in the ’50s. I was a little girl in the ’50s. I’m 61 years old, so I’ve seen a lot of changes, and there are things on television now that never would have been on before, regarding violence. Of course, the interactive — video games. … They’re dangerous for children. What makes them particularly dangerous is the interactive nature, and then the reward system for violence. Case in point: Grand Theft Auto. The player gets points — which means a reward for killing cops; for dropping a girlfriend off with some guys for a gangbang; all kinds of ridiculous things — there’s a reward. That game wouldn’t have existed. Incredible, to me.
I was visiting my son; he’s in law school in Florida, so we went to a movie and we saw a movie called Dream House — it’s kind of a horror [film] — Amityville, that kind of thing. … And there were children with their parents in the theater — this is an R movie, very frightening — and my son and I counted five or six kids no older than 7 or 8, with their parents, in front of us, watching this horrible movie because they didn’t want to get a babysitter. What people don’t understand is, with a young mind that’s forming, you don’t want to expose that to violence, because what happens is, they become desensitized. What normally would frighten them or cause anxiety later on, after repeated exposure, does not. That’s not a good thing when we’re talking about violence.
I used to watch Desperate Housewives. In the early years, it was kind of fun. … Now I know this is 9 or 10 o’clock on a Sunday night, when the little kids would be in bed, but there was one particular scene a few years ago where the character who’s portrayed by Nicolette Sheridan walks into a restaurant. … There are people all around. She’s with her girlfriends and somebody points to a beautiful woman sitting at a table and says, “Isn’t that the woman that used to date your boyfriend?” or something like that. She walks up to her and cold-cocks her with her fist. And then it went to a commercial. And then when it came back, “Oh, we’re done” — it wasn’t even addressed. That’s a felony, to begin with. It was horrible. But it makes me wonder, what would a little 10-year-old girl think of this? This is how women are supposed to behave? It was horrible. And that kind of thing is dangerous for kids. And I stopped watching the show.
What’s the most important thing that you want people to get out of this new season of Facing Evil With Candice DeLong?
The most important thing for me regarding Facing Evil With Candice DeLong, is to get into the background and the childhood of the woman sitting across the table from me who committed murder. What was her childhood like? What were her parents like? How was she treated as a little girl by important people in her life? What happened that, in her opinion, may have contributed to what’s happening to her today? And I can tell you this: The woman the other day said it to me. I said, ‘Let’s go back …’ She said she had an absolutely wonderful childhood with happy, adoring, loving parents. She kind of just became a very recalcitrant teenager at 14, 15 and completely went off the rails. And she said she had a wonderful childhood. I don’t believe her. I don’t believe her at all. And one of the things that I’ve known, because I was involved in psychiatry for so long and still am, oftentimes, when — especially in males, but we see it in females as well — are very reticent to admit that they were sexually abused as kids. Men outright deny it most of the time, and women may admit to it, but they certainly don’t want to go into details, because it’s a horrible, horrible memory to deal with. But I can tell you this: I don’t know if the statistic that I’m about to tell you is accurate, because I haven’t verified it, but approximately 75 to 80 percent of women serving time for murder or that served time for murder were physically or sexually abused before they were 10 years old. Even if that statistic is off — let’s say it’s only 50 percent — that’s pretty telling.
Photo: Martin Kimek/Investigation Discovery