Friday, April 25, 2008

One Minute to Nine - Powerful Documentary Chronicles Wendy Maldonado Murder of Abusive Husband

Please note that any reviews on Blood of the Scribe contain potential spoilers. Read at your own risk!

Tommy Davis's brilliant documentary One Minute to Nine lays out the case of Wendy Maldonado, 35, a mother of four boys, who murdered her husband of nearly twenty years, Aaron, 36, on May 1, 2005.

One Minute's first minute wastes no time in setting up a sense of uneasiness that permeates throughout the film. Seemingly innocuous home video footage of young boys sledding in the snow, juxtaposed with an eerily dark ambient piano-based soundtrack set the mood for an unusual trip ahead. The capper is a split-second shot of a man, presumably the boys' father, who glares into the camera lens almost as if he is looking directly through the person shooting the video.

From there, the film shifts to a leisurely paced discussion with an attractive, yet tired looking, Wendy Maldonado. At first, the viewer is unaware of her significance. Her purpose is not immediately thrust into the viewers' laps. Instead, Davis allows us to get to know who this young, pretty, likable woman is and warm up to her instantly.

This is followed by several of her family members, including three of her four boys and her mother. The whole family seems very loving toward one another. However, an undercurrent of tension is faintly apparent. Eventually, it is revealed that Wendy has murdered her abusive husband, Aaron, and it is only a matter of days before she is to be sent off to prison for ten years. She and her family are getting their affairs in order and Wendy is able to reveal the horror of what happened behind the walls of their Grants Pass, Oregon home.

Aaron Maldonado apparently was a video hound. He loved to shoot footage of his young lovely young bride and their playful teen courtship. This was followed by a teenage marriage and a pregnancy. The couple gave birth to a girl who, unfortunately, passed away after only nine days. Despite this early tragedy, the couple forged onward and had four more children, all boys. Photos of a very pregnant Wendy, baring twins, revealed the couple to be happy and in love.

According to Wendy, however, Aaron began to change. As the boys grew up, he used to pick on them quite a bit. He also became more stern with Wendy and had developed a quick temper. He also started to seem to be losing it quite a bit. Aaron professed to his wife that he dreamt of becoming a serial killer, one on par with the Ed Geins and Charles Ings of the world. He wanted to capture his prey, seclude them in a basement and torture them for as "long as it took for them to die." He then proclaimed he wanted to skin their bodies and consume their flesh.

Despite these glaring warning signs, Wendy stuck around.

Aaron's teasing of the children began to escalate, especially in regard to their oldest son, Randy, whom he began to smack around. He started beating Wendy, too. He allegedly bruised her repeatedly and even knocked out several of her teeth with his fists.

Some of the most disturbing portions of One Minute to Nine are culled from the family video footage during this time frame. A few pops to the head of his kids begins the transformation. One shot of him teaching one of his little boys, probably no more than two or three years old, how to shoot a shotgun is devastating. Finally, Aaron's desecration of a dead baby deer, illustrated with a flying kick to the head of the dead animal, and then the latter supping of its blood from its eviscerated belly, are mortifying.

Again, despite the ever-escalating warning signs, Wendy Maldonado chose to stick by Aaron's side.

One of the most harrowing scenes involves Wendy's 911 call after she murdered her husband. The fear in her voice is palpable as she believes he will rise from the dead, bashed-in head and all, and somehow manage to finally kill her and her four boys. Truly frightening and gripping material, eerily illustrated with photos of the Maldonado house and crime scene.

Throughout the first 2/3 of the film, Davis pulls a nice red herring in regard to the oldest son, Randy. References are made to him in the past tense, as if he may be dead, possibly at the hands of Aaron.

It is the reveal that Randy actually helped kill his father, however, where I lost a little bit of sympathy for Wendy Maldonado. I know the appropriate thing to say in regard to domestic abuse cases is that the abuser created an environment in which the abused feels he or she is unable to escape. Indeed, Wendy claimed that Aaron threatened her with death if she ever told the police about his misdeeds. He supposedly even threatened her that if she ever took off, he would go after her family members and kill them one by one until he found her.

For me personally, I have a very difficult time understanding how she would allow her son to participate in the brutal killing of his father, regardless of what he had done to her and the boys. I understand that there are serious problems with law enforcement in regard to domestic violence and that the authorities are not always reliable, as is evidenced in the movie, but I still have a hard time reconciling the fact that she would allow her son to participate in the murder.

That does not, however, detract from the brilliance of the filmmaking on display. It is, rather, a testament to Davis' skill that he can wring so many disparate emotions out of his viewers.

Indeed, by the end of the film, you have to ask yourself if justice has been properly served? Did her son deserve more than just six years for his part in the crime? Should Wendy be locked away for more than the 10 years she was sentenced to? Or, were they both wrongfully convicted? Should there be an expansion of the self-defense laws as posited by the judge who sympathized with her plight?

These are but a few of the powerful questions raised by Tommy Davis' excellent documentary, One Minute to Nine. Thankfully, the film allows the viewer to make up his or her own mind.

The only complaints I have about this documentary are a lack of photographic evidence of Wendy or any of the boys after the beatings Aaron inflicted upon them, excluding a couple of Wendy's bruises from the night of the murder. Also, a few interviews with some members of Aaron's side of the family, to see if they would have painted a different picture of the man, might have fleshed things out for me. Of course, these are my true crime book writing instincts coming into play and my desire to know as much as I can about a case. I do not believe it was Davis's objective to tell a familiar true-crime case, and I believe the off-the-beaten path style works.

Kudos to Mr. Davis for making an excellent, powerful, thought-provoking film.

To learn more about One Minute to Live, please visit here.

To learn more about filmmaker Tommy Davis, please visit here.

1 comment:

CHRISTINE HOGAN said...

AS WENDY MALDONADOS SISTER I AM WRITING TO LET KNOW THAT THERE IS ALOT MORE THE THE STORY. AS FOR YOUR COMMENT ON WENDY LETTING RAND PARTICIPATE IN THE KILLING OF AARON, SHE DID NOT ALLOW IT. RANDY DID WHAT ASME NATURALLY TO HIM, WHICH IS THE ROLE OF PROTECTOR, RANDY WOULD TAKE BEATINGS FROM HIS FATHER THAT WERE INTENDED FOR HIS YOUNGER SIBLINGS JUST SO THEY WOULD NOT HAVE TO ENDURE THE PAIN. RANDYS ROLE IN THE HOUSE WAS PRETTY MUCH LIKE THAT OF THE FATHER BECAUSE THEIR FATHER WAS NON EXISIST IN THE FATHER ROLE. ALSO, HE DID WHATEVER HE COULD TO PROTECT HIS MOTHER. AND FOR YOUR COMMENT ABOUT HAVING AARONS FAMILY PARTICIPATE IN THE MAKING OF THE DOCUMENTARY,THEY WERE ASKED AND THEY REFUSED PROBABLY BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T WANT TO PURGER THENSELVES. THEY KNEW EXACTLY WANT AARON WAS, THEY JUST CHOOSE NOT TO COME FORWARD WITH THE TRUTH. IN MY OPINION WENDY AND RANDY ARE HEROS, WITHOUT THEM WENDY, RANDY AND THE 3 YOUNGER BOYS MIGHT NEVER HAVE GOTTEN OUT OF THE NIGHTMARE THEY WERE IN.
CHRISTINE HOGAN, SISTER AND AUNT TO THE MALDONADOS