How Many Times Was James Kater Tried For The Kidnapping And Murder Of Mary Lou Arruda?

On the afternoon of September 8, 1978, Mary Lou Arruda was riding her orange 10-speed bicycle through her neighborhood in Raynham, Massachusetts. As reported by The Cinemaholic, she had just turned 15. Arruda was last seen around 4:00 pm, according to FindLaw. At 4:30, a neighbor boy found a bicycle abandoned on the side of the road. 

Mary Lou's parents had already reported her missing, as she did not return home when expected. However, they were even more alarmed to learn her bicycle was abandoned along the side of the road. According to The Cinemaholic, authorities immediately launched an extensive search for the missing teen and any witnesses who may have information about her whereabouts. 

In the course of their investigation, they found several witnesses who had seen a green car with a black or silver racing stripe. In addition to the unique color of the vehicle, the witnesses took notice of the car because it was not one they usually saw in their neighborhood. At the scene of the presumed abduction, Findlaw reports authorities found a Benson & Hedges brand cigarette butt and tire tracks on the road where the bicycle was abandoned. 

James Kater was charged with the kidnapping and murder

Based on eyewitness reports, authorities circulated sketches of the bright green vehicle and the driver. Within days, they received a tip that led them to a man named James Kater.

Law enforcement officials confirmed James Kater resembled the man described by witnesses near the scene of Mary Lou Arruda's presumed abduction. As reported by FindLaw, they also confirmed Kater drove a bright green vehicle with a black racing stripe. One of the vehicle's front tires had unusual wear, which appeared to match the tire tracks on the road where Arruda's bicycle was found. Authorities also noted Kater smoked Benson & Hedges brand cigarettes.

At the time of Arruda's disappearance, Kater was on probation for the abduction, assault, and rape, of 13-year-old Jacalyn Bussiere in Andover, Massachusetts. Kater kidnapped the 13-year-old girl in 1968 while she was walking with her bicycle. He ultimately pleaded guilty to, and was convicted of, assault with intent to rape, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, and kidnapping.

Arruda's body was not found until November 11, 1978. The Cinemaholic reports her decomposing body was found tied to a tree in Freetown State Forest. Authorities ultimately confirmed the body belonged to the missing teen.

James Kater was convicted and sentenced to life but the conviction was overturned

A medical examiner testified that Mary Lou Arruda was likely alive when she was tied to the tree. It is thought she died of either positional asphyxia or strangulation when the cord used to bind her to the tree pressed against her neck after she was no longer able to stand, as reported by FindLaw.

James Kater was indicted for the first-degree murder and kidnapping of Arruda on November 28, 1978. Although the Jury ruled Kater was guilty on both charges, and he was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, FindLaw reports the conviction was ultimately overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1983 — as testimony aided by hypnosis was admitted into evidence during the trial, which should have been disallowed.

According to SouthCoast Today, one of the witnesses remembered seeing a vehicle that resembled Kater's car, but they did not remember the make of the vehicle, the plate number, or specifically where they saw the car. However, under hypnosis, the witness was able to recall the make, license plate number, and the fact that they saw the vehicle near the scene where Arruda was killed.

Evidence gained from a witness under hypnosis was called into question

Prior to James Kater's retrial, the defendant's defense team filed a motion to suppress any testimony that was gained via hypnosis. Although the motion was initially granted, it was later reversed with provisions. As reported by FindLaw, the judge was directed to hold a hearing to determine which evidence the witness reported prior to hypnosis and which evidence was remembered after hypnosis — and was therefore inadmissible.

Kater was convicted during his 1986 retrial. However, FindLaw reports the conviction was once again overturned by the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in 1991, as it was determined that evidence obtained during hypnosis was presented during the trial. A third trial was subsequently scheduled, and the defense team filed another motion to suppress any evidence obtained during the hypnosis of the witness. The motion was upheld, and Kater's third trial began in October, 1992.

James Kater's third trial resulted in a hung jury

The jury could not reach a unanimous conclusion in James Kater's third trial, as reported by SouthCoast Today. As a result, the judge declared a mistrial.

Although Kater had two convictions overturned and his third trial ended with a hung jury, prosecutors were not deterred. Kater ultimately filed a motion to dismiss the charges citing double jeopardy (being tried twice for the same crime). However, the motion was denied. The prosecutors also filed a motion to include Kater's criminal history in the new trial and that motion was granted.

Kater's attorney, Joseph Krowski, insisted his client was not guilty. SouthCoast Today reports Krowski believes Mary Lou Arruda was the victim of cult activity, which Kater had no part in. Krowski said he had a witness prepared to testify that they saw a large group of people entering the woods with torches within the timeframe that Arruda was killed. Krowski said he had other evidence proving "there were other parties in those woods doing weird things."

According to Boston Globe, Kater admitted, during the trial, that he abducted a 13-year-old girl in 1968, assaulted her, and tied her to a tree in a way similar to how Arruda was found. On December 23, 1996, Kater's fourth, and final, trial concluded with a guilty verdict on the charges of first-degree murder and kidnapping.

James Kater's third trial led to his final conviction

James Kater was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. As reported by WickedLocal, Kater was serving his sentence at the Massachusetts State Prison when he became ill and was transported to Lemuel Shattuck Hospital. The Massachusetts Department of Corrections confirmed Kater, who was 69 years old, died on January 23, 2016. WCVB reports the convicted killer had cancer.

According to the Boston Globe, Mary Lou Arruda's mother, Joanne, admitted she is not "jumping for joy" because Kater is dead. She said, "I am just glad [he's] not around anymore," adding, "he's gone and will never slip through the cracks again."

Joanne said she still thinks about her daughter, who she remembers as "very beautiful, very sincere." She said Mary Lou was a fighter and she knew her daughter "put up some kind of fight" against her attacker.

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).