Some of Judy Malinowski’s caregivers at Ohio State say they can’t recall another patient who has survived as long with burns as severe as Malinowski’s. Tending to her in Februrary were nurses Stayce Besst, left, and K. Ashworth
Judy Malinowski is too weak now, too ravaged by burns and infection and the toll of 51 surgeries, to make it to the Franklin County Courthouse.
But the former Miss New Albany still wants a jury to see her horribly scarred face and bandaged body. She wants to respond to questions as best she can about what happened on Aug. 2, 2015, her mother said, in hopes that the answers send her ex-boyfriend to prison.
“She’s fighting,” Bonnie Bowes said of her 33-year-old daughter. “She may be holding on for this trial.”
Prosecutors expect Malinowski to testify remotely this week — via Skype, from her room at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center — against Michael W. Slager. Investigators say he and Malinowski had been arguing in a Gahanna bank parking lot at Agler and Stygler roads when Slager poured gasoline on her and ignited the blaze that all but killed her.
More than 15 months later, it still might.
“Her prognosis is not what I want it to be,” Bowes said.
Slager, 41, of Gahanna, is charged with aggravated arson, felonious assault and possession of criminal tools. He faces a maximum sentence of 12 years, but could be tried again, on different charges, if Malinowski’s burns prove fatal.
“We continue to hope for the fullest recovery possible,” said Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien. But should Malinowski “eventually succumb to the injuries inflicted on her by this defendant, the state intends to pursue homicide charges. We have been cognizant of that possibility since the beginning of this case and have made sure that none of our actions will prevent those possible charges.”
Slager maintains that he never meant for Malinowski to become engulfed in flames. In a recent letter sent to The Dispatch from the Franklin County jail, Slager wrote that the incident was a “ terrible tragedy accident” that resulted while he was trying to light Malinowski’s cigarette.
Robert Krapenc, Slager’s attorney, has said previously that his client said Malinowski had splashed a drink on him, and he splashed gas on her from a container he had in his vehicle.
“Clearly if this was intentional I would never have tried to put the flames out and suffered the burns I did,” Slager wrote.
Bowes said she also received a letter in which Slager wrote that he hoped she was in “good health and great spirits.” She is not, although her determination and her faith in God remain strong. Bowes has agreed to palliative care for her daughter but isn’t willing to give up on treatment altogether.
Some of Malinowski’s caregivers at Ohio State have said they can’t recall any other patient who has survived so long with burns so severe. Parts of her body — her ears, much of her left hand — essentially melted. She has endured hundreds of agonizing burn- and skin-graft dressing changes.
“They kinda wanted us to go to hospice,” Bowes said. “We’re down to only two antibiotics that she’ll respond to. They’ve talked to her. She still wants to try; she just doesn’t want to be in pain.”
Bowes comes to the hospital every day no matter how tired or sick she is, refusing to skip a visit even after she contracted an infection so serious that she needed intravenous antibiotics. “ They battle together,” said Worthington resident John Dauphin, who became friends with Bowes after reading a Dispatch story about the case. “Bonnie and Judy have redefined what it means to fight.”
Bowes and her family — she and her husband have a 12-year-old son with Down syndrome — also are caring for Malinowski’s daughters, Kaylyn, 12, and Madison, 9.
“The kids are somewhat distracted at Christmas, so if there is a blessing in the trial coming at this time, maybe that’s it,” Bowes said. “But it’s not the week I want to take off work and listen to testimony and watch videos of my daughter on fire.”
Malinowski has not been out of the hospital since she was burned. She improved briefly and moved to OSU East but had to be rushed back to the burn unit last month in a trip that was delayed by the knife attack that shut down campus.
“We were in the intensive-care squad, but we couldn’t get off any exits,” Bowes said.
Moving Malinowski again is too risky, her mom said. It will take massive strength, and a reduction in her pain medication, just for her to appear on the courtroom screen and face the man her family says had long been abusive.
Common Pleas Judge Julie Lynch ruled in May that video testimony, which O’Brien says he uses only rarely, would be permitted for Malinowski.
“She can’t speak, but she can shake her head yes or no,” Bowes said. “Judy’s story has never wavered. It hasn’t wavered in 15 months.”