Self-defense could mean not pulling the trigger

January 16, 1994|By ROGER SIMON

She wanted to know what was so wrong with attacking your husband if he attacked you first.

"What's-her-name did it and she got off," the woman said. "That Farrah person."

Farrah Fawcett played Francine Hughes in a made-for-TV movie called "The Burning Bed."

In 1977, Francine Hughes poured gasoline around the bed where her former husband lay drunk and then set it on fire. He died.

She was charged with murder. But at the trial, she testified that he had battered her for 14 years. A jury found her not guilty by reason of temporary insanity.

That was a rare case, I told the woman. More cases turn out like Gloria Warfield.

Who? the woman said.

I'll tell you about it, I said.

I met Gloria Warfield several years ago. She was 33 and had a good job with the Internal Revenue Service, five children and a lousy marriage.

Her husband, Isaiah, had beaten her for 17 years. "He stuck an iron to my arm once," she said. "He burned me good."

On the last day of his life, Isaiah began beating Gloria in the early evening. "He got mad," Gloria said. "He started choking me. He is a little guy, but very strong. He is so violent. I took that beating about 5 p.m."

After beating Gloria, Isaiah went after their 12-year-old daughter and that is when Gloria remembered the gun.

"I knew he hid the gun in the back of the closet in an old suit," Gloria said. "He had three bullets that was hid in the pocket with it."

Telling her daughter to run to the basement, Gloria ran to the closet.

"I prayed," she said. "I prayed: 'God give me strength to load this gun.' I prayed for that."

Isaiah came to the doorway of the bedroom.

"I'm gonna shoot if you keep on!" she shouted at him.

Isaiah laughed. "You think you bad because you got that little popgun?" he said. "Shoot me!"

She shot Isaiah in the foot with the .22 pistol. It did not stop him.

Gloria ran. Isaiah caught up with her and choked her. Then he turned from her and started down to the basement to go after their daughter.

Gloria shot him again.

"I shot him one time in the arm; I aimed for the arm," she said. "He walked on down the stairs and fell on the floor."

Gloria called the police. "I shot my husband, somebody get help," she said.

They took Gloria to the police station and she gave a statement. Then the police told her that Isaiah had died. They charged her with murder in the first degree and locked her in a cell.

Hollywood did not call Gloria. There was no movie about her. She was just another accused murderer, one of thousands.

She got a lawyer and the lawyer told her that she should have shot Isaiah while he was choking her and not when he turned away to go after their daughter.

"That would have been self-defense," the lawyer said. "But shooting him when he turned away? Well, that is less clear."

Jury selection began for Gloria's case. The prosecution came to Gloria with a deal: Plead guilty to voluntary manslaughter and they would drop the murder charge.

Gloria took the deal. The judge was sympathetic. He gave Gloria two years in prison with the provision she could visit her children on weekends.

She ended up serving 18 months and got out on five years' parole.

She came by my office one day and I asked her if she had seen the Farrah Fawcett movie.

She nodded. "I watched on television how that woman burned up her husband," Gloria said. "I couldn't do that. That is too cruel, too cruel. But she got away with it. And I didn't."

Gloria was looking for work, the kind of work a convicted felon could get. Life was not easy, but at least she was with her children.

I asked her the question that columnists are supposed to ask: Did she have any advice for women with abusive husbands?

Gloria had advice. "I say to women like me: Don't do it," she said. "Don't shoot. They have shelters now that will take the whole family in. So if you have a sadistic, violent husband, just leave home.

"Because if you kill him, you will pay for the rest of your life. I have. Your friends, your relatives, they just disappear. You are an outcast. A killer. It is not like on the TV. So I say: Just don't do it."

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