Breaking ground by testifying in a Maryland courtroom as an expert on "battered spouse syndrome," a psychiatrist yesterday said a woman charged with murdering her live-in boyfriend last August near Annapolis was suffering from the condition.
Patricia Mae Terrell believedit necessary to shoot Robert Ford Jr. to prevent him from continuingto physically abuse her, forensic psychiatrist Christiane Tellefsen testified yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.
Battered spouse syndrome is developed by some women who, feeling helplessly trapped in abusive relationships, respond with violence toward their mates.
Tellefsen, who testified as a private physician but is also the acting superintendent of the Clifton T. Perkins Hospital Center, apparently is the first person to testify as an expert onbattered spouse syndrome in Maryland since legislation allowing suchevidence to be used in state courts was enacted by the General Assembly on April 5.
The legislation won't become law until July, but both sides in the Terrell murder trial agreed to act as it were already on the books. To do otherwise would have accomplished nothing more than delaying the trial until after the
law went into effect, the prosecutor and defense attorney agreed.
Terrell, 37, is charged with second-degree murder in Ford's death. Terrell testified yesterday she had been physically abused by her first husband and subsequent boyfriends, including Ford.
"My eyes have been broken. My teeth havebeen broken. My nose has been broken three times. My head has been busted open," Terrell testified. She said she once awoke to find Ford holding a .38-caliber handgun -- the same gun she would later use to kill him -- to her head and threatening to kill her and himself.
In a tape of her interview with a police detective, played for the jury Tuesday, Terrell described the 43-year-old Ford as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict.
With Terrell and her 16-year-old daughter, Falisha Gardiner, in the same room, Ford was drinking the fortified wine Cisco the night of his death, Terrell testified yesterday. (Inhis opening statement, defense attorney Thomas Axley said an autopsyshowed Ford had a blood alcohol level of between .27 and .30 percent, about three times the legal limit for intoxication.)
Terrell said Ford began arguing with her over her plans to visit Florida to see another teen-age daughter and investigate suspicions that the girl's 27-year-oldlive-in boyfriend was abusing her. Terrell said Ford beganaccusing her of planning to have sex with the boyfriend.
Gardinerfled the house and, in the course of a struggle that left an aquarium and other furniture overturned, Terrell grabbed a knife and stabbedFord in the side. When Ford continued to come after her -- "He had death in his eyes," she testified -- she grabbed a gun sitting in a bedroom and fired, hoping only to stop his advance. But the shot killedFord within minutes.
Tellefsen, the psychiatrist, said Terrell's "irrational" response to Ford's problems with alcohol -- the woman said she could get her boyfriend to stop drinking and thus prevent the beatings -- was one sign she suffered from battered spouse syndrome.
Tellefsen also said Ford's apology and the couple's subsequentreconciliation the morning after he had held a gun to Terrell's head was typical behavior in the development of the syndrome. Tellefsen said other clues that Terrell had suffered from the condition were her financial dependance on Ford and her explanation for returning to the home after two fights the night of the killing: "I thought he was done."
Assistant State's Attorney Nancy Harford attempted to erode Tellefsen's credibility by stumping her on questions about experiments involving the syndrome and by pointing out how her theories differed from those expressed by Lenore E. Walker, a psychologist who is a leaderin the field.
Harford also asked Tellefsen how Terrell could be considered financially dependent on Ford, a carpenter, when Terrell had shown she was capable of working and supporting herself.
The jury is scheduled to hear closing arguments in the case and then begin deliberating today.