An Annapolis woman who was the first to use "the battered spouse syndrome" defense in a Maryland trial was sentenced yesterday to seven years in prison.
Patricia Mae Terrell, 37, who was acquitted of murder but convicted of manslaughter in the shooting death of her boyfriend, was sentenced to the maximum penalty of 10 years for manslaughter, but county Circuit Judge Eugene M. Lerner suspended three years ofthe sentence.
Lerner also sentenced Terrell to seven years for a handgun violation, but ordered that penalty to be served concurrently with the manslaughter sentence.
After more than three days of testimony in April, a jury acquitted Terrell of second-degree murder. Terrell's lawyer, Thomas Axley, had argued his client acted in self-defense when she fatally shot
Robert Emerson Ford Jr. on Aug. 7 after an alcohol-fueled argument in their home. A prosecutor, however, said Terrell was not justified in killing her boyfriend.
Earlier this year, the legislature passed, and Gov. William Donald Schaefer signed, a bill allowing evidence about the battered spouse syndrome into Maryland courtrooms. The law will not take effect until July 1, but in April both sides in the Terrell case agreed to act as if the law were already on the books to avoid a delay in the trial.
A defense witness, Christiane Tellefsen, testified during the trial Terrell was a battered woman who felt it necessary to shoot 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.
But, after the conviction,Assistant State's Attorney Nancy A.
Harford said she did not believe Terrell fit the profile for the battered spouse syndrome.
At yesterday's sentencing hearing, Axley said Terrell had been abused by her two husbands and by subsequent boyfriends, including Ford. He said the woman had suffered through an impoverished childhood in which she was abandoned by both parents and was sexually abused by relatives.
The Rev. Colin Phillips, a counselor for abused women at the Calvert County Health Department, yesterday told the court, "I was convinced very early on (in his meetings with Terrell) that she was a person who had really been terrified over a period of years in a series of abusive relationships."
Of Terrell's life with Ford, Axley said,"They had a wonderful relationship -- except when he drank."
During the trial, Terrell testified Ford, 43, had a drinking problem and beat her. On the night of the killing, Terrell, her 16-year-old daughter and Ford drank fortified wine, testimony showed.
Terrell said Ford began arguing with her over her plans to visit another teen-age daughter in Florida to investigate suspicions that the girl's 27-year-old live-in boyfriend was abusing her. Terrell said Ford accused herof planning to have sex with her daughter's boyfriend.
Terrell's 16-year-old daughter fled the house in the 100 block of Defense Highway and, in the course of a struggle, Terrell grabbed a knife and stabbed Ford in the side. When he continued to advance, she grabbed a gunfrom a bedroom and fired. She said she was hoping only to stop his advance but Ford died within minutes from the gunshot wound.
In court yesterday, Terrell spoke of her love for Ford and said she had been praying for the dead man's family. "I understand their grief turnedto anger and they hate me. I don't blame them," she said. But she added the family members were not witness to Ford's attack on her that prompted the killing.
Before sentencing Terrell, Lerner said, "This is a case that really stems from alcohol. It is really almost a terrible lifestyle." Saying, he believed Terrell was sincere in her remorse, Lerner added, "But when that alcohol got in them, there was no reason."
The dozen family members who attended the trial and yesterday's hearing declined to comment on the sentence. Harford said the sentence was "appropriate"; Axley said it was "fair."
As a sheriff's deputy led her from the courtroom, Terrell said, "I just loved him,and I didn't mean to kill him."