Lori Ann Slesinski was a recent Auburn University graduate who vanished in 2006 when she was supposed to show up at her best friend’s home to watch a movie. Her disappearance remained a mystery until this year, when another friend, Rick Ennis, went on trial for her murder. As “48 Hours” correspondent Peter Van Sant reports, this wasn’t the first time Ennis was accused of an unspeakable crime.
Lindsay Braun: I can still see her smile. Her smile is just etched in my memory.
To this day, Lindsay Braun is haunted by the final call from Lori Slesinski on June 10, 2006, when they were supposed to get together for drinks and a movie.
Peter Van Sant: That last call — Did it indicate it was her phone?
Lindsay Braun: Yes …
Peter Van Sant: She calls, and it hangs up?
Lindsay Braun: Yes.
Peter Van Sant: And no one’s there?
Lindsay Braun: Just no one was there. It was just dead end.
Peter Van Sant: Did you call her right back?
Lindsay Braun: I did. No answer.
Lori Sleskinski and Braun became fast friends when they met junior year at Auburn University in 2002.
Lindsay Braun: I … remember the day I met her. … we just kind of immediately clicked … But I could just tell that she was a warm person … very friendly, just outgoing, loving, all those good things.
Lori’s family — her older brother, Paul, and their parents, Arlene and Casey— were actually from New York State. They headed south to rural Alabama farm country when Lori was 13 years old.
Arlene Slesinski: She loved animals. We always had animals in our house … very studious student. She was a good girl.
When she enrolled in nearby Auburn University, her parents bought Lori a mobile home to live off-campus, in a manicured trailer park popular with students.
Peter Van Sant: So, from valedictorian of her high school class … was it tough for you … to see your baby girl leave the house … and head off to university?
Arlene Slesinski: Oh yeah, it was very tough … I called her every day. And … she’s like, “mom, this has got to stop.” … and I was like, “but you’re my baby and … I worry about you.” “Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”
Lori majored in psychology and minored in criminal justice. She graduated with honors.
Peter Van Sant (looking at photo): There she is with mom and dad…she looks so happy there.
Arlene Slesinski: She was. … She was over the moon happy.
After graduation, Lori and Braun started working together at a local mental health facility.
Peter Van Sant: Did you sense… that she had any enemy in this world?
Lindsay Braun: No.
Peter Van Sant: … the day that Lori disappeared … June 10, 2006 … was anyone with Lori that day?
Lindsay Braun: Rick was at her house.
Rick was Derrill Richard Ennis.
Lindsay Braun: When I had spoken to her, he was in the background.
Lori got to know Ennis back when she was still a student. She hung out at the local bowling alley where he worked.
Lindsay Braun: I didn’t know much about him at all except … he was her friend.
Arlene says just before Christmas in 2005, Lori asked if Ennis could join them.
Arlene Slesinski: She asked me, she said, “mom, he has no family. Can I invite him?” She kind of, you know, felt bad that he was going to spend Christmas alone. … He was friendly, um … He was very polite.
Braun says Lori often spent time with Ennis, so she wasn’t surprised that he had been at Lori’s home the day she disappeared.
Lindsay Braun: They were friends so. … I wasn’t concerned.
Peter Van Sant: But now you’re at home —
Lindsay Braun: Yes.
Peter Van Sant: — waiting for Lori to come over.
Lindsay Braun: Yes.
Peter Van Sant: And you went to bed that night thinking?
Lindsay Braun: You know, I hope she’s OK.
But the next morning, Braun started to worry.
Lindsay Braun: I called her house several times … left voicemails on her home answering machine. … “Hey Lori, checking on you. Are you OK? Where are you?”
Peter Van Sant: You went to work on that Monday, right?
Lindsay Braun: Yeah. … She wasn’t there … In my mind something’s wrong … I had Rick’s number … so I did text him, and asked … “have you seen Lori? Where is she? I’m worried about her.” … Um, his conversation back was, “no, I haven’t. … and I’m worried now, too …
When Lori didn’t show up at work a second day, that’s when Braun headed to Lori’s home.
Lindsay Braun: No one answered.
And found her dog Peanut in his crate.
Lindsay Braun: I’m an animal lover so … the very first thing I did was let the dog out.
That’s when she noticed something else strange. Lori was missing three days, but the crate was spotless, and Peanut seemed happy and appeared to be well-fed, as though someone had taken care of him. And there was more.
Lindsay Braun: One thing I remember about Peanut is he wouldn’t walk on tile, so she had these rugs in her kitchen and he would hop on the rugs … and the rugs were gone. I noticed that immediately … her outside trashcan was missing … she had one that she had like yard tools in …
Lindsay Braun: And … the answering machine had actually been unplugged … so those messages were not there.
By this time Lori’s mother heard that she hadn’t been showing up at work.
Arlene Slesinski: I have got to go to Auburn and see what’s going on, where she is ’cause I called her, and she didn’t answer her phone.
She headed off on an agonizing drive, calling her husband, and alerting the police, finally arriving at her daughter’s home.
Peter Van Sant: And when the police got there … what was their attitude?
Arlene Slesinski: Well, you know. They’re like she’s got to be missing 48 hours. … And they didn’t really think a big— make a big deal out of it.
Lindsay Braun: … they wanted to just think she ran away.
Lori’s parents could only wait for Lori to walk through the door, or call. Finally, the phone rang late that afternoon, but Arlene says it wasn’t Lori — it was her friend, Rick Ennis.
Arlene Slesinski: … he said that Lori had gone to make a big drug deal.
Peter Van Sant: What?
Arlene Slesinski: Yeah … and I was like, there ain’t no way … My daughter would not do anything like that.
Peter Van Sant: Did you tell the police what he told you?
Arlene Slesinski: I didn’t. Rick told them. … And the police came to the trailer … banging on the door … and they raided the … mobile home and they found nothing.
Then, just before dawn, that’s when Lori Slesinski’s missing car suddenly exploded into a fireball on a desolate dead-end outside a construction site.
Arlene Slesinski: The feelings were just unbelievable of fear and knowing something really bad has happened.
Peter Van Sant: Who would set her car on fire?
Arlene Slesinski: Exactly.
Peter Van Sant: And why?
Arlene Slesinski: (emotional)
The investigation shifted from a missing person to a possible homicide. Investigators dug into Ennis’ tip about Lori dealing drugs but found no evidence — none — that he was telling the truth.
Now investigators started digging deeper into Rick Ennis. They wanted to know if he was hiding something from them.
Peter Van Sant: Did you have any sense as to why Rick Ennis didn’t have a family?
Arlene Slesinski: No. I had no idea why at all.
Peter Van Sant: Eventually, you learned.
Arlene Slesinski: I did. … It’s beyond shocking.
DID RICK ENNIS HAVE A SECRET?
Peter Van Sant (inside Lori Slesinski’s trailer): And do you go into that trailer from time to time just to connect with her?
Arlene Slesinski: I do. … Just go in there and think about the happier times.
Peter Van Sant: This room … besides the memories, is also a solemn place because you believe some horrors went on in this room, correct?
Arlene Slesinski: Yes.
In the early days of the investigation back in 2006, Arlene Slesinski says she became suspicious of Rick Ennis when he told her that the night Lori disappeared, she had gone out to make a drug deal.
Peter Van Sant: And why would he be doing that do you think?
Arlene Slesinski: I think to take the heat off of him. … I was thinking, “this guy is lying through his teeth.”
Police suspected the same. But without direct evidence linking Ennis to Lori’s disappearance, police could not make an arrest, and the case quickly went cold.
Peter Van Sant: Did Rick Ennis stick around town?
Agent Mark Whitaker | Alabama SBI: He was there for a couple of days. But within a — a week, after his third interview, he left town; never came back to Auburn again.
In 2016, 10 years after Lori disappeared, Mark Whitaker, a special agent with the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation, started a cold case unit. He chose the disappearance of Lori Slesinski as his first case.
Peter Van Sant: Any estimate how many murder cases you’ve been involved with in your career?
Mark Whitaker: Probably about a hundred.
Peter Van Sant: Where does this one rank in terms of fascination for you as an investigator?
Mark Whitaker: It’s number one.
Mark Whitaker: It was a very difficult case. … because there was no body. … we don’t know exactly what happened. And — we don’t know where she is.
But it didn’t take long for Rick Ennis to become Whitaker’s prime suspect.
Mark Whitaker: We couldn’t eliminate him. His inconsistencies in his statements made no sense whatsoever. We knew Lori was not a drug dealer. … I mean, she vanished off the face of the Earth when he’s the last one to ever see her.
And when police spoke to Ennis hours after Lori was reported missing, they noticed scratches on his hands and arms.
Mark Whitaker: (points at evidence photos of Ennis’ scratches): Right here, that is a thumb print where somebody’s digging in … she’s fighting for her life and doing everything she can to get away from him.
In Ennis’ car, there were handcuffs, a knife, and cleaning supplies. And they soon learned something startling about Rick’s past.
Former Alabama State Trooper John Clark.
John Clark (in car with Peter Van Sant): Turned into one of the most bizarre cases I’ve ever been associated with.
John Clark: I was patrolling this county when I got a call.
It was March 5, 1993. The call from dispatch said a car had gone off a highway and struck a fence.
John Clark: And as my headlights take in the curve, I see it looks like a young boy with a backpack.
It’s a 12-year-old Rick Ennis. And he admits he had been driving the car. Clark searches his backpack.
John Clark: The first thing I pull out is a kitchen knife …. There’s … some 12-gauge and some 22-caliber loose ammunition in the bottom of the bag.
John Clark: … he’s sittin’ back there in that seat behind you. And I said, “Where are your parents?” … He looks right back at me and he says, “I killed them both.”
Peter Van Sant: “I killed ’em both.”
John Clark: “I killed ’em both.” No tears, no emotion, nothing.
Clark then radioed for local police to get over to Ennis’s home.
At the time, a show called “MPD: The Television Series” was following the officers:
COP: State troopers workin’ a wreck involvin’ a 12-year-old —
COP (as officers approach trailer): The boy’s telling them that they killed his daddy and mama in here.”
Cameras enter the home of Rick’s mother and stepfather. On the floor of a bedroom are two dead bodies.
COP: There is pieces of a baseball bat in the bedroom that has quite a bit of blood on it.
COP: There’s blood on the walls, blood spatters on the door.
Rick’s own mother, Dolly Flowers, was shot in the face and then beaten to death with a baseball bat. Rick told investigators he covered her face with a velvet blanket, and placed a rose on her chest.
Rick Ennis’ stepfather, Eddie Joe Flowers, was known as Elvis for his sideburns and colorful personality. Rick shot him in the face using a shotgun. Ennis told cops he was mad that his parents planned to move. He said he didn’t want to leave his school. For two days, investigators believe he lived with their bodies, while continuing to go to school.
Investigators say they found what they describe as Ennis’ to-do list that included killing his three stepsisters.
Peter Van Sant: So, he wanted to kill all three of you?
Angela Flowers: Oh, yeah. … I feel very blessed to be here, and not to be one of his victims.
Donna Furr. Angela Flowers, and Tina Sexton are all Eddie’s daughters. Tina was 20 when her dad was murdered.
Tina Sexton: This changed everything. My dad was my world. (Crying and a long pause) Never getting to see him again.
The sisters say Dolly was a sweet, outgoing woman who met their father in church. Rick was the polar opposite.
Donna Furr: Every time I would go and visit my dad and Dolly, they — he would go into his bedroom and close himself off …
Tina Sexton: He’d come out and eat and then he’d go back in his room.
Peter Van Sant: What is the longest conversation you ever had with him?
Donna Furr: Five seconds maybe.
Tina Sexton: He didn’t talk to nobody.
Peter Van Sant: What did your father think of Rick?
Donna Furr: He just said “He’s just a little different than — than y’all were when y’all were coming up … He just thought that … they were in a new relationship, and you know, that it would — he would outgrow it, and things would get better over time.
But just 10 months after they married, the happy couple was dead.
Donna Furr: He was 12 years old and had murdered two people … brutally murdered them.
At age 12, Rick Ennis couldn’t be tried as an adult. He spent nine years in juvenile detention in Alabama and was released after he turned 21.
It was now up to Agent Whitaker and his team to determine whether Rick Ennis had murdered again.
A NEW LOOK AT THE EVIDENCE
Agent Mark Whitaker knew what Rick Ennis did to his parents, and his instincts told him Ennis had done something horrible to Lori, too. But now he had to prove it.
Mark Whitaker: The burn site was found on the 14th.
Mark Whitaker (with Van Sant where Lori’s car was found): The car was … facing out back toward the bowling alley. … There’s nothing else around here at the time. There’s no apartments. It’s just a paved road.
The blaze destroyed whatever evidence there was in the car, but an investigator reported finding a tiny item on the ground nearby.
Mark Whitaker: He found a hand-rolled cigarette butt about right here (points towards the ground). And he collected that … It was not tested … Kinda got lost in the shuffle. The case agent retired.
Whitaker’s team now submitted it for testing.
And there was a gas can that had been found nearby.
Mark Whitaker: It was right in this area right here.
It looked like one that had been missing from the bowling alley where Ennis had worked.
Mark Whitaker: And it’s right here, 1,000 yards from the bowling alley, 30 yards from her car.
Whitaker’s partner, JW Barnes, showed “48 Hours” something that for police tied everything together: railroad tracks.
Agent JW Barnes | Alabama SBI: These are the same tracks that go right by the bowling alley. … They run … right across the street from where Lori’s car was found burning.
Mark Whitaker (pointing to areas of a large map): I’ve always thought that’s what Ennis used for transportation, was walking down the railroad tracks. Cause it’s a straight shot, you’re not gonna be seen unless you want to be seen. … And those railroad tracks run by Lori’s house.
And in that house were signs of a violent struggle, says Whitaker.
Mark Whitaker (inside Lori’s trailer): These areas you see right here that have been cut out, that’s where the scuff marks … were … They were black, just like the bottom of her shoes, there was even some up as high, here. So, it’s — obviously there was a struggle in here with somebody kickin’ their legs, probably up in the air.
Remember, Lori’s dog Peanut seemed happy, and taken care of.
Mark Whitaker: My theory is that Rick Ennis stayed in the house …
Peter Van Sant: After he had murdered Lori.
Mark Whitaker: I believe so. … It’s the only way to explain it.
Mark Whitaker (inside Lori’s trailer): We don’t have a cause of death, but I’ve always thought that he strangled her … the scratches that he had all over his arm were just indicative of defense wounds when you’re fightin’ somebody.
Whitaker says the phone in the corner of the bedroom was missing its cord.
Mark Whitaker: … and it was a long cord, and it ran all the way through the room.
Peter Van Sant: And what do you think that cord was used for?
Mark Whitaker: I think it was used to bound her.
Peter Van Sant: To tie her up?
Mark Whitaker: Yes, sir.
Peter Van Sant: Could it have been used to strangle her?
Mark Whitaker: Sure.
Mark Whitaker: That phone cord was missing.
That’s not the only thing that was missing. There were those three rugs in the kitchen.
Mark Whitaker: … they were kinda strategically put out so that Peanut, Lori’s dog … could hop through the linoleum and be back on carpet.
The rugs turned up, he says, a few years later.
Mark Whitaker: Ennis had a former roommate who reached out to law enforcement … and told them … “Hey, there’s this guy who left behind three rugs.”
Mark Whitaker: Peter, I want to show you somethin’ else … Lori had a table set up about right here, and on this table … days before Lori went missin’, a love letter was left here for her from Rick.
People who knew Lori said Ennis wanted to be more than just a friend. Police say Ennis told a buddy that Lori rejected him.
Mark Whitaker: And he was devastated by that.
Peter Van Sant: So, do you believe this rejection may have been a motive for murder?
Mark Whitaker: I think that’s what sent him over the edge. I absolutely do.
Despite the mounting evidence, Agent Whitaker still needed something more that tied Ennis directly to the crime scene.
Arlene Slesinski: As far as I’m concerned, he is investigating this case like Lori is his own daughter.
Arlene Slesinski: I mean he has a picture of Lori in his house.
Mark Whitaker: I’ve had it in my closet. It would make me think about her every day when I was getting ready for work. When I would put my ties on, I would just remember what I was supposed to be doing every single day.
And then …
Mark Whitaker: … it’s like, 1:00 in the mornin’, and JW calls me.
JW Barnes found exactly what they needed in the case files collecting dust for 10 years.
Mark Whitaker: He goes, “I just found a … report that was in an envelope that hadn’t been opened.”
Whitaker could hardly believe it. When Lori disappeared in 2006, police collected evidence from her trailer, but by the time the results came in, no one followed up. The report contained critical evidence: Ennis’ DNA was identified in semen found on Lori’s bedsheet, and in blood on the interior of the front door. And, it turned out, his blood was also found on one of the rugs investigators say were in Lori’s kitchen.
Mark Whitaker: You’ve got his blood on the rug here. You’ve got his semen back there. You’ve got his blood on a door … most people’s blood is not inside somebody else’s home … unless somethin’ really bad had happened.
Twelve years after Lori disappeared, there was now enough evidence to charge Rick Ennis with her murder. But by this time, Ennis was happily engaged to school librarian Alana Atkinson — and living 500 miles away in Virginia. He was designing and building portable living structures called yurts for Sharon Morley’s company. Morley liked Ennis from the moment they met.
Sharon Morley: He was just so open and friendly and had a great sense of humor.
But on August 6, 2018, Rick’s birthday, Morley saw a task force of lawmen arrive.
Sharon Morley: Walking out of the woods, they were hiding behind trees, they had the place surrounded.
Mark Whitaker: It was the highlight of my career to make the phone call to Arlene and Casey Slesinski that morning, to tell them that we just took Rick Ennis in custody … for Lori’s murder.
Peter Van Sant: Was this kind of a bittersweet moment for you?
Arlene Slesinski: Most definitely, yes. … I guess, psychologically, I never accepted the fact that she really was gone. And I cried big time. Yeah.
Later that month, Ennis appeared before an Alabama judge, with Lori’s parents facing him.
Arlene Slesinski: I guess he kind of seemed surprised that we were there.
Peter Van Sant: What did you want him to know?
Arlene Slesinski: That we finally got you. You’re not going to get away with this.
News of Ennis’s arrest quickly spread.
Terry Booth: I saw on social media … it’s Rick.
Terry Booth says he was friends with Rick Ennis, and suddenly remembered a conversation he had with him years earlier at a bar when he asked him why he’d left Alabama.
Peter Van Sant: What did he say?
Terry Booth: He just mainly said I had to get rid of a b****. … I’m thinking this guy is just messing around with me.
But that changed when he learned of Rick’s arrest.
Terry Booth: And it was real … he wasn’t joking. … I couldn’t sleep the whole night.
He called Whitaker’s task force.
Mark Whitaker: And it was just unbelievable what Ennis had told him.
But the most explosive news of all came later and, incredibly, while Whitaker was with Ennis at another court hearing.
Mark Whitaker: An investigator from Auburn PD comes up to me and tells me “You’re not gonna believe this. That hand-rolled cigarette butt next to the car has his DNA on it.” … I wanted to do a somersault in the courtroom, but I couldn’t.
Everyone now was prepared to go to trial, but the courts quickly ground to a halt because of the pandemic, and Arlene Slesinski suffered more losses. First her son to cancer, and then her husband Casey to Covid.
Arlene Slesinski: And I got a call … “I think you’d better come” … when I got there, he was gone (crying).
Peter Van Sant: You lose your daughter, you lose your son, and then you lose your husband. … How do you go on with all this?
Arlene Slesinski: I guess my faith, my friends, family.
Arlene Slesinski: … and … I just did not want to die not knowing what happened to my daughter or seeing justice being done.
But Rick Ennis was determined to prove police had it all wrong. And he wasn’t the only one fighting to prove his innocence.
Alana Atkinson: They have the wrong person. There’s — there’s no way.
His fiancé, Alana Atkinson.
Peter Van Sant: Do you believe Rick had anything to do with Lori’s disappearance, with her death?
Alana Atkinson: No. I do not.
Alana Atkinson: … not only do I believe Rick is innocent, I believe that … he would’ve given his life for Lori if he had been there. That’s the kind of person he is.
And she believes that — despite the fact that she knows Ennis murdered his mother and stepfather when he was 12.
Peter Van Sant: People would wonder … why is it hard for you to believe that he could kill again?
She says Ennis told her something about what happened with his mother — something that convinced her he had nothing to do with what happened to Lori.
RICK ENNIS TALKS TO “48 HOURS”
Alana Atkinson: Rick Ennis is one of the most compassionate, generous, kind people that I’ve ever known.
Alana Atkinson has been in love with Rick Ennis for four years.
Alana Atkinson: I love his intelligence. I always joke with him and tell him I fell in love with his brain first.
But just two months into their romance, Atkinson, an amateur genealogist, was researching Ennis’ ancestry when she stumbled upon news that he had killed his mother and stepfather.
Alana Atkinson: My first thought was what in the world happened in his home life that pushed him to that point?
Ennis would tell her something she didn’t see in any article.
Peter Van Sant: Rick, it’s Peter Van Sant with “48 Hours.”
Rick Ennis: Oh, hi, Mr. Van Sant.
Reached by phone, Ennis told “48 Hours” what he insists happened.
Rick Ennis: I was molested by my mother.
Ennis says his mother sexually abused him and he snapped.
Rick Ennis: I exploded, and the result was that I — I took my mother’s life and then I took my stepfather’s life.
But remember, back then he told authorities he killed his parents because he didn’t want to move.
Rick Ennis: I was deeply ashamed about — my mother molesting me, and I had a really hard time talking about it.
Still, “48 Hours” could find no evidence to corroborate Rick’s abuse allegation.
Peter Van Sant: You know, I, Rick, I — I have to tell you, obviously, I — I have no idea what happened. A skeptic would say you’ve conveniently accused the mother that you murdered of molesting you and she can’t defend herself. … You understand how that’s difficult for some to believe?
Rick Ennis: Well, I mean, it — it’s something that I worked through with a — a psychiatrist … what I did when I was 12 is the greatest regret of my life.
Rick Ennis insists he’s no longer that angry 12-year-old. Now 41, Ennis would stand trial for yet another murder.
Rick Ennis (to Peter Van Sant): I never murdered Lori Slesinski. She was a very close, dear friend of mine. I never would have hurt her.
Prosecutor Jessica Ventiere is sure that is a lie. But at trial, she wouldn’t be allowed to tell the jury anything about Ennis’ past.
Jessica Ventiere: This is by far the most complicated case of my career.
JESSICA VENTIERE | PROSECUTOR (in court): He becomes obsessed with her.
Ventiere’s first hurdle was convincing the jury that Lori was, in fact, dead. She called Lori’s mother, Arlene, to the stand.
JESSICA VENTIERE: Did she make contact with you after her brother died?
ARLENE SLESINSKI: No, ma’am.
JESSICA VENTIERE: Have you ever received a birthday card?
ARLENE SLESINSKI: No, ma’am.
JESSICA VENTIERE: A Mother’s Day card?
ARLENE SLESINSKI: No.
JESSICA VENTIERE: Have you ever heard from your daughter in any way since that Thursday before she disappeared?
ARLENE SLESINSKI: No, ma’am
Lindsay Braun was next, seemingly setting up a motive, telling the jury that Lori rejected Rick Ennis.
LINDSAY BRAUN: She told me about a letter that he had written her.
JESSICA VENTIERE: Was it a love letter?
LINDSAY BRAUN: Yes. … She told me that she wasn’t interested him — in him … that way.
And Terry Booth would take the stand to recount that troubling remark he said Ennis made.
TERRY BOOTH: … he had to strangle a b****. … that she was a White piece of trailer park trash.
The district attorney built her case with testimony about the scuff marks on the wall, and the blood in Lori’s trailer, Rick’s semen on her bed and the cigarette butt with Ennis’ DNA found near Lori’s scorched car.
William Whatley: They’ve got problems with this evidence.
But defense attorney William Whatley claimed that hand-rolled cigarette was planted — arguing police could have taken it from Ennis’ home.
WILLIAM WHATLEY | DEFENSE ATTORNEY: That cigarette butt didn’t come from the burn scene.
The defense suggested Lori was responsible for her own disappearance. They portrayed her as a drug dealer.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: You knew that Lori had grown marijuana.
LINDSAY BRAUN: Yes.
Lindsay Braun insisted, however, that it was only for Lori’s personal use.
LINDSAY BRAUN: For herself, for so she didn’t have to purchase any.
But to drive home their points, Whatley called Rick Ennis himself to the stand.
RICK ENNIS: I spent a lotta time with her.
Ennis insisted he had no reason to hurt Lori.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you write a … letter to Lori?
RICK ENNIS: Yes, sir, I did. … I asked her if she wanted to date. … it woulda been a month or two before she went missing. I’m not certain.
But even though she turned him down, Ennis says they were still intimate.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Now, did you ever have sex with Lori?
RICK ENNIS: Yes, sir.
So, what about what he said to Terry Booth? Ennis says it never happened.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you ever go out drinking with Terry Booth?
RICK ENNIS: No, sir.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you tell Terry Booth that you strangled someone?
RICK ENNIS: No, sir.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Rick, I want to show you some photographs here …
And those rugs given to police by his former roommate? Rick claims they were not from Lori’s trailer.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Where did you get these rugs from, Rick?
RICK ENNIS: Target.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you get any of those from Lori
RICK ENNIS: No, sir.
Ennis says Lori was fine when he left her that Saturday. He says he headed off to sell some weed and he claims she was off to do the same.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: The last time you saw Lori did you have any kind of an argument with her?
ENNIS: No, sir.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you break into Lori’s trailer that Saturday?
RICK ENNIS: I did not.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you kidnap Lori?
RICK ENNIS: No, sir.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you kill Lori?
RICK ENNIS: I d — I did not.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: Did you burn Lori’s car?
RICK ENNIS: No, sir.
So, what about the knife, handcuffs and cleaning items in his car? Rick Ennis says it had nothing to do with Lori. He was moving things from his apartment. And those scratches on him? Back in 2006, police say he had no explanation, but at the trial he had an answer .
RICK ENNIS: I got them from playin’ with my dog.
Ventiere barely made it to the podium to start her cross-examination.
JESSICA VENTIERE: Is there anything else you’d like to blame on the dog?
Ventiere questioned Ennis about that blood on Lori’s door.
JESSICA VENTIERE: The blood in Lori’s trailer has your DNA in it. How did that get there?
RICK ENNIS: I have no idea.
And the question Ventiere really wanted an answer for she never got.
JESSICA VENTIERE: Where did you dump Lori’s body?
RICK ENNIS: I didn’t dump Lori’s body anywhere.
JESSICA VENTIERE: Who did then?
RICK ENNIS: I have no idea.
Both sides had their final chance to persuade the jury. Defense attorney Whatley told the jurors there wasn’t any evidence that a crime had even been committed.
WILLIAM WHATLEY: There’s no evidence that Lori was kidnapped. There’s no evidence that she was forcibly taken against her will.
Ventiere attacked Ennis’ defense.
JESSICA VENTIERE: The fact they can sit there and say that their client told the truth about anything is laughable. … This is about a man who was obsessed with Lori.
Ventiere insisted that the volume of evidence against Rick Ennis was overwhelming even if police still couldn’t find Lori’s remains. And she reminded the jury that Lori would never just take off.
JESSICA VENTIERE: She would never, ever, ever leave Peanut behind, never.
After seven days of testimony, it was now up to the jury to decide.
Jessica Ventiere: I’m terrified. I only get one shot at this.
Arlene Slesinski: you just never know what a jury’s gonna do.
JUSTICE FOR LORI
JUDGE: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, have y’all reached a verdict in this case? OK. Can you hand that to the bailiff please ma’am?
Peter Van Sant: When the jury came back into the courtroom … did you look at their faces?
Arlene Slesinski: Yes, I did. … It was very hard to read their faces. … I still wasn’t sure what the verdict was going to be.
JUDGE: Would the defendant please stand?
Nearly 16 years after Lori Slesinski vanished, the jury reached a verdict during their second day of deliberations.
JUDGE: We the jury find the defendant Derrill Richard Ennis, guilty of the offense of capital murder.
Guilty of the murder of Lori Slesinski.
Peter Van Sant: Give me a sense of … what that meant to you.
Arlene Slesinski: Sheer relief, joy that he was finally convicted, and would never get to do this to anyone else again.
DA JESSICA VENTIERE (press conference): I’m thrilled that we were able to bring Justice for Lori after such a long time …
Immediately following the jury’s verdict, DA Ventiere went to Arlene with a proposal. Ennis was now facing a possible death sentence, but that would trigger years of appeals and legal wrangling. To spare Arlene all that, Ventiere suggested offering Rick life without parole. Arlene agreed.
JUDGE: It is the sentence of the court that you be in prison in the penitentiary of the state of Alabama for a term of life without the possibility of parole ..
Alana Atkinson was stunned.
Alana Atkinson: Just complete shock. Disbelief. I was devastated.
She was so certain Rick Ennis would be exonerated she’d made plans to celebrate. A celebration, Rick told “48 Hours,” that he would be part of.
Rick Ennis (to Peter Van Sant on the phone): I thought that we were gonna go and … have a nice dinner and that I was gonna get to start my life over.
Arlene headed home to savor the bittersweet victory.
Peter Van Sant: After this verdict, did you have a conversation with Lori?
Arlene Slesinski: I did. … I just said, “Lori, justice has finally come. We’ve waited for this for a long time. And I hope you’re all celebrating in heaven with the entire family … And I wish you were all here to see this day (cries).
Peter Van Sant: This tragic murder, the ripple effects across your family … is just incredible.
Arlene Slesinski: It has left a very large void in my life. I was getting ready to retire. I mean I could have been enjoying my grandchildren possibly — just spending time with my daughter, who I loved.
Arlene Slesinski: We brought Peanut home with us and he stayed with us ’til he was, I guess, about 16 years old when he died. … every time we mentioned Lori’s name, he would — he would — I don’t care where he was in the house, it was like he just heard her name and he’d run in there, like, “where is she?” … it just totally amazed me that he — he never forgot her. … Never.
Arlene Slesinski (walking with Mark Whitaker): Did you ever think that six years ago we would be here today?
With her husband and both her children gone, this tragic story has brought new friendships into Arlene’s life.
Arlene Slesinski: Mark Whitaker is my hero … Him and his wife are like family to me now.
Arlene Slesinski (with Mark Whitaker looking at photos of Lori): This was on her graduation day. Casey, her and me.
Mark Whitaker: That’s a great photo.
Arlene Slesinski: And this was her a month before she disappeared at her cousin Jennifer’s wedding with her cousin Thomas.
Mark Whitaker: Wow. Not a care in the world.
Arlene Slesinski: Nope.
Mark Whitaker (to Peter Van Sant): She’s one of the bravest women that I’ve — I’ve ever met.
Mark Whitaker (to Arlene): You showing all these to me just makes everything more real for me … beautiful girl. Thanks for sharing those with me.
Arlene Slesinski: You’re welcome
Mark Whitaker (to Peter Van Sant): I could tell … She seems to be happier now.
Arlene Slesinski (to Whitaker): I can’t thank you enough for it. It was just —
Mark Whitaker: I love you.
Arlene Slesinski: I love you, too.
Mark Whitaker: One tough lady. (Hugs Arlene and kisses the top of her head).
Arlene Slesinski gained a new companion in 2021 — her dog, Daisey.
Produced by Murray Weiss. Richard Barber is producer/editor. Kat Teurfs is the field producer. Morgan Canty is the associate producer. Joan Adelman and Gary Winter are the editors. Patti Aronofsky is the senior producer. Nancy Kramer is the executive story editor. Judy Tygard is the executive producer.