Abuse defense fails Annapolis woman guilty

April 20, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Special to The Sun/Jay Apperson is a reporter for the Anne Arundel County Sun, a suburban edition of The Baltimore Sun.

ANNAPOLIS -- The first Maryland trial to feature expert testimony on "battered spouse syndrome" ended yesterday with a jury finding an Annapolis woman guilty of manslaughter in the death of her live-in boyfriend.

An Anne Arundel County Circuit Court jury of eight women and four men deliberated for nine hours over two days before finding Patricia Mae Terrell, 37, not guilty of second-degree murder but guilty of manslaughter and a handgun crime.

Terrell's lawyer, Thomas Axley, argued his client acted in self-defense when she fatally shot Robert Emerson Ford Jr. last Aug. 7 after an alcohol-fueled argument in their home.

A defense witness, forensic psychiatrist Christiane Tellefsen, testified Terrell was a battered woman who believed it necessary to shoot Mr. Ford to prevent him from continuing to abuse her. Experts say battered spouse syndrome is developed by some women who, feeling helplessly trapped in abusive relationships, respond with violence toward their mates.

After the verdict was announced, Mr. Axley said, "I think it's a step backward for women's rights. It's back to the old societal view that a man is superior to a woman and has a right to dominate, and a woman doesn't have the right to react."

Assistant State's Attorney Nancy A. Harford disagreed, saying, "The battered spouse syndrome will be an issue in another trial, but I don't think it was an issue in this trial. The issue in this trial was self-defense. I don't think the defendant fit the profile for the battered spouse syndrome."

Legislation allowing evidence about the syndrome into Maryland courtrooms was enacted by the General Assembly April 5. Gov. William Donald Schaefer is expected to sign the bill.

In February, the governor commuted the prison sentences of eight women, all of whom he said had been victims of abuse by their mates. Seven of the eight were serving prison sentences for killing their mates. Reports in The Sun questioned whether the governor had all the facts about the women's cases before cutting short their sentences.

Although the legislation wouldn't become law until July, both sides in the Terrell murder trial agreed to act as if it was already on the books to avoid delaying the trial.

Terrell testified during the trial that she had been physically abused by her husband, whom she last saw in 1982, and by subsequent boyfriends. "My eyes have been broken. My teeth have been broken. My nose has been broken three times. My head has been busted open," she said.

The woman testified that Mr. Ford, 43, had a drinking problem and beat her. She said she once awoke to find him 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.

On the night of the killing, Terrell, her 16-year-old daughter, and Ford drank the fortified wine Cisco, testimony showed.

Terrell said Mr. Ford began arguing with her over her plans to visit another teen-age daughter in Florida to investigate ZTC suspicions that the girl's 27-year-old live-in boyfriend was abusing her. Terrell said Mr. Ford accused her of planning to have sex with the boyfriend.

The daughter fled the house in the 100 block of Defense Highway and, in the course of a struggle , Terrell grabbed a knife and stabbed Mr. Ford in the side. When the man continued to come after her -- "His eyes were like the devil's," she testified -- she grabbed a gun from a bedroom and fired. She said she was hoping only to stop his advance, but Mr. Ford died within minutes from the gunshot wound.

The dozen members of Mr. Ford's family attending the four-day trial issued a written statement praising the county state's attorney's office and calling the jury's decision "fair."

Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner revoked Terrell's $10,000 bond and ordered her held pending sentencing, scheduled for June 12. As she was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, Terrell displayed little emotion and declined to comment. But a sheriff's deputy said the woman broke out in tears in an elevator leading to the courthouse holding cells. Terrell faces a maximum sentence of 10 years on the manslaughter conviction and a mandatory sentence of five years for her conviction on using a handgun in committing a violent crime.

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