Sporting a red, white and grey button-up shirt with form-fitting jeans, the 23-year-old victim took the witness stand in Courtroom 406 at Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center around lunchtime Wednesday.
A video camera captured every bit of her testimony against Padge-Victoria Windslowe, the so-called “Black Madam” who stands accused of performing illicit silicone buttocks-enhancement procedures.
Windslowe, who had support from a handful of relatives and friends but did not speak or react with anything beyond facial expressions throughout the hearing, would be held for trial on aggravated assault, deceptive business practices and other charges.
Testifying after the doctor who treated her at Lankenau Hospital in late February, the victim — an exotic dancer who recently returned to work in a limited capacity — identified herself by full name. However, Assistant District Attorney Carlos Vega strongly urged the media to refer to her as only “Miss King” when asked to spell her first name because “she’s very upset.”
King spent more than an hour explaining how her quest to have a larger posterior damaged her lungs and left doctors worried she might die.
Painting a picture
Prosecutors asked King to describe the process of a “pumping party” like at least two which were held at the home of her friend and co-worker “Backshot” on the 100 block of E. Pastorius St. in Germantown.
That’s where Windslowe would ultimately be arrested after a pre-party stakeout by police who suspect she also played a role in an injection which proved fatal near Philadelphia International Airport in 2011.
Noting that she got her first injection from Windslowe on Dec. 31, 2010, King noted that women would gather and collect the $500 or $1,000 that each was paying for the procedure before Windslowe’s arrival. (The money was placed into a dark trash bag, the witness noted.)
Once Windslowe arrived, the customers would take turns lying on a dining-room table. Then, the woman who allegedly assured them she was a registered nurse who worked in the cosmetology field would stick a needle into their buttocks and inject something that King said she was told came from Thailand.
Two injections cost $500; four ran $1,000. On both occasions, King chose the $1,000 procedure.
“You know how you buy a gallon of cooking oil in a jug? It looked like that,” King recalled from the stand. “She said that it was safe and OK.”
After each woman received injections, she noticed “their butt was a lot bigger and you could see the cotton balls” which were used along with Krazy Glue to seal the injection site “so it don’t leak out.”
According to King, the women were told to lie down for four to five hours after the procedure, drink a lot of water and not to sit in regular fashion for the next three days.
All went according to plan the first time. When King went to another pumping party at Backshot’s house this February, things went awry.
By that point, King had already met Windslowe once, after which she heard about the fatality.
King testified that when she asked about the fatal incident, Windslowe told her that “she didn’t kill that girl; that girl was high on cocaine.” Charges have yet to be filed in that case.
When Windslowe injected silicone into her buttocks that night, King “felt pressure, it hurt, my knees started shaking and they told me to calm down, relax, just breathe, it’s OK, it’s OK.”
King said her temperature reached 109 degrees and she started throwing up blood. She went to Temple University Hospital where she was diagnosed with pneumonia and later released.
When she didn’t improve, her mother took her to Lankenau Hospital where witness Dr. Arka Banerje discovered that the injected silicone had entered her bloodstream and reached her lungs and, possibly, heart.
Banerje’s diagnosis was silicone embolism syndrome, for which extensive studies do not exist.
“Did you think you were going to die?” asked Vega, who represented the commonwealth along with assistant district attorney Bridget Kern.
“Yes,” responded King, who would spend more than a week hospitalized and about two months with oxygen tanks in an effort to restore normal breathing function.
King noted that she returned to dancing at a gentlemen’s club near City Avenue within the past two weeks, but exhaustion has led her to cut back on shifts.
“I’m getting better compared to where I was,” King said, “but I’m not back to 100 percent.”
In labeling the silicone particles in King’s lungs a permanent condition for which surgery is not an option, Banerje noted that limited breathing capacity means that “there is a chance that she might pass away from the flu, or something else she shouldn’t pass away from.”
When King left the stand, she was visibly frustrated and muttering about the “stupid questions” being asked by Windslowe’s defense attorneys. She declined to comment after the hearing.
Windslowe’s defense attorney Douglas Gould noted that the lower burden of proof required at a preliminary hearing translated into expectations that Windslowe would be held for trial on $750,000 bail. Her sisters and support network politely declined comment afterwards.
As for King’s testimony being videotaped, Gould said “it’s an extremely unique [move generally seen when] somebody is dying from cancer and might not make it six months to trial.”
Unexpectedly, an elderly witness in another case was wheeled down the fourth-floor courthouse hallway on a stretcher during the conversation.
“That’s the type of case that videotaping is used for,” he noted.
Outside the courthouse, Kirn noted “we have a victim that suffered real injuries and this is a serious incident. This is not resolved.”
Regarding Windslowe, Kirn noted that she risks people’s lives — potentially even taking them, if charges are filed in the “ongoing” airport-hotel fatality investigation for which the Delaware County medical examiner has not yet delivered findings — by deceiving pump-party attendees into believing that she’s a registered nurse.
As for Windslowe’s counsel, Vega noted that “the cross [examination] was brutal to the point of trying to embarrass her.”
Not so, noted Gould and co-counsel Sean Cullen, who said the moral of this story is “the levels some people will go to to [cosmetically] enhance themselves. It’s a shame people have to go to those lengths.”
Responding to Vega’s assertion, Gould said he merely asked questions about King’s testimony.
“We didn’t ask those questions about what she did for a living, and how this affected her ability to work, out of respect,” Gould said. “We were focused solely on what are the truths of this case. We made no effort to embarrass her.”