Jennifer Asbenson was in a pinch. She wouldn't have taken the
ride, but she had been warned about losing her job if she was late again.
On Sept. 27, 1992, Asbenson was running late, so she got in the car. The driver was nice enough and took her to work, but Asbenson gave him a fake telephone number because she already had a boyfriend.
Little did she know then she had accepted a ride from a serial killer.
Asbenson, now 31, of Napa Valley, Calif., lived to tell of an encounter that police say eight other women in Illinois and California did not survive.
On Monday, she testified of her hellish abduction, rape and eventual escape from Andrew Urdiales in the desert near Palm Springs, Calif., 12 years ago.
Asbenson testified before a Livingston County, Ill., jury hearing whether Urdiales, 39, of Chicago's Southeast Side, should get the death penalty for the July 1996 murder of Cassie Corum, 21, of Hammond.
Urdiales, a former Marine and Gulf War veteran, was convicted of Corum's murder last week. In 2002, he was convicted and sentenced to death for two other murders, but former Illinois Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentence to life in prison.
On Monday, Livingston County jurors were clearly affected by Asbenson's testimony. At least two jurors cried and several frequently turned to look at Urdiales. A tape of Urdiales confessing to the rape and abduction also was played in court Monday.
According to Asbenson, Urdiales was waiting for her when she finished her night shift the morning after accepting a ride from him. He offered her another ride and she accepted again, Asbenson said.
Urdiales quickly confronted her about the phone number, which he had called, she said.
"He started yelling," Asbenson said. "He said, 'It was a wrong number, bitch.' He pulled out a knife and twine, and he pulled the car over right away."
Urdiales showed her a gun and tied her hands, Asbenson said. She apologized and admitted to giving him the wrong number, but he continued to swear at her and started driving into the desert, she said.
Asbenson refused to give him oral sex, but Urdiales forced her head into his lap while he was driving, she said. Eventually, he stopped the car in the desert, Asbenson said.
Urdiales cut off her underwear and jammed it in her mouth, and then tied her bra over her mouth, she said. He then raped her, Asbenson said.
"Then he told me to tell him that I loved him," she said and started crying.
"I had never said it, so I tried to think to myself how I would say it. I tried to say it so it sounded sincere, but it sounded fake, like I was saying it so I wouldn't die."
Urdiales started strangling her and she may have lost consciousness, Asbenson said.
"I couldn't feel my body," she said. "I couldn't feel anything. I didn't even feel the fear I felt for him."
Urdiales pulled her out of the car by her hair and ordered her to give him oral sex again, Asbenson said. She planned to bite his penis, but he struck her in the head, she said.
Eventually, Urdiales put her in the trunk and continued driving, Asbenson said. Inside the trunk, she tried to kill herself by holding her breath and banging her head, she said.
Instead, she started praying.
"I said, 'Please, God. Please hear me because I'm about to be chopped up to pieces. I will go to church. I will do whatever you want me to do. Just get me out of here,' " Asbenson said.
"I got really, really, really calm. I got all my energy together and pulled real hard and the twine just busted off my hands."
After tearing apart the trunk's interior, she was able to unlatch the trunk from inside, Asbenson said. Urdiales pulled the car over and got out, so she slammed the trunk shut, she said.
The car got stuck when he tried to drive away, so Asbenson jumped from the trunk but her hand got stuck in the locking mechanism, she said. Urdiales grabbed a machete from the back seat, Asbenson said.
"I just about had a heart attack," she said. "I think I left my hand in the trunk. I took off running in the opposite direction. I looked back, and he was chasing me with the machete, yelling bitch and slut and telling me to come back."
Asbenson tried to grab a mirror on a passing car, but the driver would not stop, she said. Eventually, she ran in front of an approaching truck, Asbenson said.
Marines got out and put her in the truck, she said. They chased Urdiales but were unable to catch him, Asbenson said.
Urdiales was given the death penalty a few times over.