On Saturday, “48 Hours” will be airing an episode about the disappearance of Auburn resident Lori Ann Slesinski and the man convicted for her murder, Rick Ennis.
Titled “A Man with a Past,” it will air at 9 p.m. CST on CBS and can be streamed on Paramount+. It contains portions of an interview with Ennis.
Murray Weiss, a producer for “48 Hours,” said he heard about the Slesinski case from a federal agent while working on another story in Miami.
Weiss said he was intrigued and began to research it.
“I thought it was an interesting, important, emotional and multi-layered story,” he said. “I think it’s a real, rare, powerful story.”
Weiss has covered numerous criminal cases throughout his career in the newspaper and television industry. He said what makes this story extraordinary is all of the different elements within it.
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Slesinski was 24 years old when she went missing in June 2006. Her car was found four days later engulfed in flames at the dead end of Dekalb Street in Auburn, but her body was never found.
During the investigation, police said they were almost certain they knew Ennis was the responsible for Slesinski’s disappearance, but they didn’t believe they had enough evidence at the time.
Two cold case investigators with the Alabama State Bureau of Investigation, special agents Mark Whitaker and John “J.W.” Barnes, were hired in 2016 to focus on solving the case.
Ennis was arrested in Pilot, Virginia, in 2018, and Lee County District Attorney Jessica Ventiere began preparing to prosecute the case in court.
On April 14 of this year, a jury in the Lee County Justice Center in Opelika found Ennis guilty of two counts of capital murder, including capital murder burglary and capital murder kidnapping.
“I believe Lori and all her family in Heaven are celebrating today,” Slesinksi’s mother, Arlene, said after the trial.
After Ennis was found guilty, three of his stepsisters released a statement to media revealing that in 1993, when Ennis was 12 years old, he murdered his mother and stepfather. He was released from the juvenile system at age 21.
“I’ve seen a lot of bad people in my career that have done a lot of bad things, but he is one of the most evil people I’ve ever seen in my life,” Whitaker said in an interview with the Opelika-Auburn News.
48 Hours and correspondent Peter Van Sant investigated the case and interviewed detectives, friends and family who were close to Slesinski and Ennis, and he also interviewed Ennis.
“Rick Ennis has a genius-level IQ,” Van Sant said, “and when you talk to him, he has an attitude that he’s the smartest person in the room and that he can, through his reasoning, convince you of just about anything.”
Ennis believed he’d outsmarted everyone until Whitaker took on the case and “bested his genius,” Van Sant said.
Van Sant said Ennis told him his own mother had sexually abused him, which triggered him to murder her and his stepfather.
“There is absolutely no evidence of this whatsoever,” Van Sant said. “Speaking with him, it was just disturbing in that he is willing to tarnish those who can’t defend themselves, those who are dead.”
In 1993, Ennis told authorities the reason he killed his parents was because they were planning to move and he didn’t want to go to a different school, Van Sant said.
“That side of the story is about as disturbing an incident as I’ve ever reported on in my 20 years on this broadcast,” Van Sant said.
During the interview, Ennis denied having anything to do with Slesinski’s disappearance and told Van Sant, “I never murdered Lori Slesinski. She was a very close, dear friend of mine. I never would have hurt her.”
Van Sant said Whitaker helped piece the story together for them.
“We had a top-notch investigator willing to cooperate with us and work with us,” Van Sant said. “He took us on a fantastic journey over the course of this case of how eventually it was solved.”
Weiss, who also attended the trial, said he thought the prosecutors and investigators did a “very thorough job” of building and presenting the case against Ennis.
During the trial, Ennis took the stand to testify, which Weiss said was unusual.
“There was quite a bit of testimony that was enlightening, illuminating I’m sure for the jury, but similarly it’s very unique for a defendant in a murder case to take the stand in his own defense,” he said.
Van Sant said this is a personal and heartbreaking story that is also inspiring because Slesinski’s family and the investigators involved never gave up on pursing justice.
“To tell a story like this and see it through to justice is incredibly satisfying to me and my colleagues at ’48 Hours,’” he said.