Polly Nelson


Polly Jean Nelson (born 1952) is an American attorney and author. She is best known as a member of
serial killer A serial killer is typically a person who murders three or more people,A serial killer is most commonly defined as a person who kills three or more people for psychological gratification; reliable sources over the years agree. See, for example: ...
Ted Bundy Theodore Robert Bundy (Name change, born Cowell; November 24, 1946 – January 24, 1989) was an American serial killer who kidnapped, raped, and murdered numerous young women and girls during the 1970s and possibly earlier. After more t ...
's last defense team from 1986 until his execution in 1989.Nelson 1994, p. 9Kramer, Victor H. (1995). Defending the Devil: My Story as Ted Bundy's Last Lawyer (review).
''Constitutional Commentary'', Spring, 1995

Education and early career

Nelson grew up in central
Minnesota Minnesota () is a state State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literature * ''State Magazine'', a monthly magazine published by the U.S. Department of State * The State (newspaper), ''The State'' (newspaper), a daily newspaper ...

, the eldest of five children. After receiving her
undergraduate Undergraduate education ieducationconducted after secondary education and prior to postgraduate education. It typically includes all postsecondary programs up to the level of a bachelor's degree. For example, in the United States, an entry-level ...
degree from the
University of Minnesota The University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (the U of M or Minnesota) is a public In public relations Public relations (PR) is the practice of managing and disseminating information from an individual or an organization An organ ...

University of Minnesota
in 1975, she spent two years as a social worker in Warren, Minnesota, followed by three years licensing day care facilities at the Minnesota Department of Public Welfare in St. Paul. In 1981, she enrolled at the
University of Minnesota Law School The University of Minnesota Law School is the law school of the University of Minnesota, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The school confers four law degrees: a Juris Doctor (J.D.), a Master of Laws (LL.M.), a Master of Science in Patent Law (M. ...
, where she became president of the ''
Minnesota Law Review The ''Minnesota Law Review'' is a student-run law review A law review (or law journal) is a scholarly journal An academic or scholarly journal is a periodical publication in which scholarship relating to a particular academic discipline is ...
'' and received her
Juris Doctor The Juris Doctor degree (J.D. or JD), also known as Doctor of Law or Doctor of Jurisprudence (J.D., JD, D.Jur., or DJur), is a graduate-entry professional degree A professional degree, formerly known in the US as a first professional degree, is ...
degree in 1984. In 1985, she worked as a law clerk in the
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (in case citations, 2d Cir.) is one of the thirteen United States Courts of Appeals. Its territory comprises the states of Connecticut, New York (state), New York and Vermont. The court ha ...

Bundy litigation

In 1986, Nelson joined the
Washington, D.C. ) , image_skyline = , image_caption = Clockwise from top left: the Washington Monument The Washington Monument is an obelisk within the National Mall The National Mall is a Landscape architecture, landscape ...
law firm of Wilmer Cutler and Pickering as a junior associate. A few months later, she accepted a ''pro bono'' assignment from the Appeal#State Post Conviction Relief: Collateral Appeal, Florida Office of the Capital Collateral Representative (CCR) to assist in efforts to Stay of proceedings, stay Ted Bundy's imminent execution on multiple murder convictions. Although she had no previous first-hand experience in criminal law or the appeals process, she and co-counsel James Earl Coleman Jr. were able to secure three stays before Bundy was finally executed on January 24, 1989.Dezern, Craig; Roy, Roger; Date, Shirish (January 23, 1989). Bundy prays and reads Bible. Killer records a message to be heard after his death. ''Orlando Sentinel''Caudwell, Sarah (August 21, 1994)
What Is a Lawyer's Duty? : For three years, attorney Polly Nelson dedicated herself to attempts to save Ted Bundy's life.
''Los Angeles Times''


Nelson was fired by Wilmer Cutler a few months after Bundy's execution. Bundy's defense had cost the firm, it claimed, in excess of $1.5 million, the estimated amount Nelson and Coleman would have earned for the firm had they been representing paying clients. In 1989, she was appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Parole, and later served as general counsel at Adcom Worldwide and legal counsel/privacy officer at Computer Network Technology.IAPP (January 2010)
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''The Privacy Advisor''

Book and plagiarism litigation

In 1994, Nelson's book ''Defending the Devil: My Story as Ted Bundy's Last Lawyer'' was published by William Morrow & Company.Staff report (July 4, 1994)
Defending the Devil: My Story as Ted Bundy's Last Lawyer (review).
''Publishers Weekly''
In addition to a detailed description of the appeals, motions, and other legal maneuvers that were employed in the attempt to save her client from the electric chair, Nelson describes her own intellectual and emotional development during that three-year period. There is also a summary of the efforts made by Bundy and various psychiatrists to explain why he did what he did. Nelson's account later received harsh criticism from Michael Mello, the CCR attorney who originally sought outside help in filing Bundy's appeals. "Sending Bundy's case from CCR was one of the worst decisions I've made as a deathworker," he wrote. In 1995, Nelson filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against novelist John Grisham and his publisher Doubleday (publisher), Doubleday for copyright infringement. She alleged that Grisham's book ''The Chamber (novel), The Chamber'', "blatantly appropriated central themes, plot twists, characters and descriptive details" from ''Defending the Devil.''Torry, Saundra (June 19, 1995)
Fact, Fiction and Fairness: The Copyright Wars Surge.
''Washington Post''
Owens, John B. (2000). Grisham's Legal Tales: A Moral Compass for the Young Lawyer. 48 UCLA L. Rev. 1431 (2000-2001) In 1996, Judge Royce Lamberth dismissed the suit, calling the charges "meritless". A year later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously dismissed Nelson's appeal, noting that it "does not warrant an opinion".Grisham Plagiarism Suit Dismissed (October 20, 1997)
Publishers Weekly archive
Retrieved September 10, 2011
Nelson was ordered to pay attorneys' fees for both parties.Kelly, Keith J. (October 10, 1997)
Suit Doesn't Fit Grisham.
''New York Daily News''


{{DEFAULTSORT:Nelson, Polly 1952 births American legal writers American women lawyers Lawyers from Washington, D.C. Living people University of Minnesota alumni University of Minnesota Law School alumni Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr associates 21st-century American women