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Run, Bambi, Run
Lawrencia Ann ("Laurie") ("Bambi") Bembenek may have been too pretty for her own good. Looks coupled with poor judgement led to dire consequences.
Marrying Fred Schultz was a mistake. He treated Bambi badly. And he had a poor relationship with ex-wife Christine and sons Sean and Shannon.
Fred was a cop; Bambi was a cop. She was fired from the Milwaukee Police Department. That's where she got the moniker "Bambi" from a supervisor who could not pronounce her surname. She found a job with Marquette University as a public safety officer.
Around 2:20 a.m. on Thursday, May 28, 1981, Chrstine Schultz was shot in her bed. Bambi soon became a suspect and was arrested and indicted for first degree murder.
The trial of Wisconsin v. Bembenek lasted from Feb. 22 through March 9, 1982. The jury returned a guilty verdict, resulting in a life sentence. Interviewed jurors said the most damning evidence was the defendant's access to the murder weapon, her husband's .38 calibre off-duty revolver. Appeals were unsuccessful. See 331 N.W.2d 616 and 409 N.W.2d 432.
Housed at the Wisconsin women's penitentiary near Fond du Lac, Bambi earned a college associate's degree and completed requirements for a bachelor's degree. Around the time of the latter accomplishment, she met Nick Gugliatto, a visiting brother of another inmate. She fell in love, repeating her bad judgement of men. But with his help she soon became a folk heroine and the subject of a silly song I'm playing as I write, "Run, Bambi, Run."
On the night of July 15, 1990, Bambi crawled through a laundry room window and climbed over the barbwire fence and jumped in Nick's truck. They drove to Canada, ending up at Thunder Bay on the north side of Lake Superior. Nick goofed off but Bambi worked, as a cook and a waitress at the Columbia Grill & Tavern. Except for fights with Nick, Bambi's life on the run was good.
But a transient customer from the States recognized his server as Lawrencia Bembenek on "America's Most Wanted." The Canadian Mounties came calling in October 1990.
After protracted extradition delays, Bambi was returned to Wisconsin. Meanwhile, evidence of police "mistakes" in the initial investigation opened the possibility for a new trial. Then the prosecution and defense bargained. Bembenek would plead "no contest" to murder in the second degree of Christine Schultz. In return her sentence would be reduced to 20 years, with immediate release for time served and the balance on parole. Significantly, Bambi agreed not to challenge this new conviction in any manner, including by collateral attack. (She did anyway, but for naught; see 724 N.W.2d 685.) The agreement was judicially approved on Dec. 9, 1992.
Bambi's most recent bad decision occurred in November 2002 at Marina del Ray near Los Angeles. She was scheduled to appear on "The Dr. Phil Show." Claiming that she was imprisoned in an apartment by staff before her appearance, she panicked and tried to escape through a second story window on bedsheets tied together. The makeshift "rope" broke and she fell to the ground. Her right leg was amputated below the knee.
Be careful, Bambi.
DONALD F. PAINE is a past president of the Tennessee Bar Association and is of counsel to the Knoxville firm of Paine, Tarwater, Bickers, and Tillman LLP. He lectures for the Tennessee Law Institute, BAR/BRI Bar Review, Tennessee Judicial Conference, and UT College of Law. He is reporter to the Supreme Court Advisory Commission on Rules of Practice and Procedure.