Woman claims insanity in husband's death

1st-degree murder trial begins in Anne Arundel

March 06, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A woman accused of killing her husband after he threatened to throw her out over $48,000 in credit card debt is contending that she was a battered spouse and temporarily insane at the time of the slaying, her lawyer told jurors as her trial opened yesterday in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Terry Harriet Pierce Eslin, 59, of Shady Side is charged with first-degree murder in the death of Richard P. Eslin, 66, who was shot and bludgeoned with a rifle until the stock broke.

Prosecutors contend that Terry Eslin knew what she was doing Jan. 17 last year. Only after her lawyers hired mental health experts was she described as a battered wife who went temporarily insane, Assistant State's Attorney Laura S. Kiessling told jurors in opening remarks yesterday.

But defense lawyer James C. Cawood Jr., a retired Anne Arundel County circuit judge, asked jurors to find that Eslin was insane when she killed her husband as he slept.

The attorney told jurors that after a rough childhood, an abusive marriage and two divorces, Terry Eslin's abusive third husband was giving her a few days to get out of the house because she had run up a $48,000 credit card debt. She entered a "dissociative state," Cawood said, and killed him.

In her confession, most of which was read in court yesterday, Terry Eslin said she and her friends went shopping every Friday for seven years "as a distraction from our problems." When her husband discovered the debt, he gave her less than a week to leave.

Prosecutors contend she first tried to poison him, though Terry Eslin said her husband took 25 of her anti-anxiety pills to make it look that way. After he vomited and returned to bed, she threw two towels over his head "so I didn't have to look at him" she told police.

Eslin told police she did not know if she shot her husband. "All I know after that is that I had the rifle in my hands and was banging Dick in the head with it," the confession states.

Four hours after the killing, she asked a neighbor in her Snug Harbor community to come over, and she confessed to him, according to the confession.

So stunned was neighbor Richard R. Roberts that the former North Beach police officer botched the 911 call. Eslin redialed and handed him the phone, he told jurors. As he spoke with an emergency dispatcher, Roberts said that Eslin was "bordering on hysteria."

The body was behind the bedroom door rolled up in bloody bedclothes and wrapped in a blue tarp secured with elastic cords. The broken rifle was in its case, placed under a bedspread in another bedroom.

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