Woman claims abuse defense

Murder defendant says spouse caused thoughts of suicide

April 05, 2002|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

A Pasadena woman who fatally shot her estranged husband on Christmas Day 2000 told a packed courtroom yesterday that the cycle of violence she endured throughout the 11-year marriage left her depressed and ultimately suicidal.

Kelly Ann Clutter, 35, testified in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court that David Clutter's occasionally controlling ways during their two-year courtship turned into "constant" abuse after they married.

"He yelled at me every day. He would always find a reason to yell at me," she said. "I started to feel, at the end, that I was a worthless piece of crap."

Neither side disputes that Clutter, who is charged with first-degree murder, shot her husband in her home on Christmas Day with a .357-caliber revolver she had purchased two months before.

Clutter and her lawyers say she was planning to commit suicide to escape abusive circumstances when David Clutter, 32, appeared at her home unexpectedly and she shot him in self-defense.

However, Assistant State's Attorney Pamela Alban argues that Clutter planned the shooting because her husband was expected to win sole custody of their son, David Jr., at a court hearing the next day.

"This is the performance of Kelly Clutter's lifetime," Alban told the jury in her opening statement Monday. She asked the jury to carefully weigh whether Clutter's experience constituted "battered spouse syndrome" - a condition the defense says Clutter suffered from at the time of the shooting.

On the stand, Clutter described a husband who was so controlling that, at times, he would not let her eat. During their marriage, she testified, her husband raped her repeatedly.

Many times, Clutter said, her husband kicked and shoved her, and threatened to kill her if she told anybody.

When the couple separated in 2000, Clutter said she agreed to give up custody of their 8-year-old son in hopes of quelling her husband's violent behavior. She petitioned the court for an order of protection and sought counseling, but went to only a few sessions.

When Alban pointed out that the judge had issued the order of protection against David Clutter "without any finding of abuse," Clutter said she signed off on the order because she feared she would lose visitation rights if she pressed for an abuse finding.

Several defense witnesses have testified that Clutter seemed afraid around her husband. A former co-worker, Margaret Lambert, testified that Clutter passed out once on the job because, Clutter later told Lambert, her husband was withholding food. Another time, Lambert said, David Clutter came to the workplace with a baseball bat, looking for his wife.

A co-worker at a different job testified that she saw a man the defense identified as David Clutter grabbing Kelly Clutter's arm in the parking lot.

Two defense experts testified that Clutter suffered from battered spouse syndrome. Neither is a medical doctor and they said they based their diagnosis largely on Clutter's account.

One of the experts, Steve James, testified that he began counseling Clutter in a county detention center in June. He said he had received his clinician's license about a month before the sessions began.

He said he met with Clutter about 15 times a month - sometimes three times a day and often after 10 p.m. - until another inmate complained that James was spending too much time with her.

James, who was employed by the detention center, said he also wrote letters on Clutter's behalf to the state Department of Social Services and to her son's court-appointed attorney in the custody dispute. That advocacy led his employer to conclude he had "overstepped his bounds in the Kelly Clutter case," James testified.

James resigned shortly after and works in private practice.

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