Woman says she remembers little about killing her husband

Eslin takes stand, claims temporary insanity

Anne Arundel

March 12, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Shady Side woman who maintains she was temporarily insane when she killed her husband wept on the witness stand yesterday as she told an Anne Arundel County jury she recalls little about the bloody attack.

"You can't imagine how I feel to this day that I took a human life. I just cannot believe that man is not here anymore," said a sobbing Terry Harriet Pierce Eslin, 59, charged with first-degree murder in the death of Richard P. Eslin, 66, who was her third husband.

She said she wanted to hurt her husband, who she said was abusive and ordered her to leave because he discovered her five-figure credit card debt, but at the same time, "I wanted to grow old with him."

Eslin contends she suffers from battered spouse syndrome and should not be held criminally responsible for killing her husband of 15 years on Jan. 17, 2003. The only part of the killing she recalled was pounding her husband with a rifle so he would understand the pain he put her through, she told the Circuit Court jury.

Prosecutors say the beating, which broke the rifle stock, came after Eslin fired three shots into her husband's head, but before she rolled him and some bloodsoaked bedclothes into a blue tarp secured with bungee cords.

A state psychiatrist, however, testified that, contrary to Eslin's and defense experts' contention, Eslin may have planned the killing, and her assertion of amnesia for only the killing may be a "convenient mental disorder."

Eslin, who planned to take Jan. 17 off from work, may have drugged her husband before shooting, bludgeoning and packaging him, and cleaning up, forensic psychiatrist Christiane Tellefsen testified. Despite three rifle shots to his head, police did not find the shell casings, she noted.

The killing took place a few days after Richard Eslin discovered his wife's years of Friday shopping sprees - she believed he learned of $10,000 of her $48,000 credit card debt - and gave her a week to get out.

"So all of those things point to a planned event," Tellefsen testified.

"I did not think [hers] was a credible account. I thought she was faking that amnesia for her insanity plea," she said.

The psychiatrist said that while Eslin has mental health problems, she does not suffer from battered spouse syndrome and was sane when she killed her husband of 15 years.

If the jury believes the defense and finds she was insane, Eslin will go to a mental hospital until psychiatrists find she is no longer dangerous. But if the jury agrees with the prosecution, it could convict her of first-degree murder, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Eslin depicted her husband as so verbally and physically abusive that she left him three times, and said he seriously hurt her twice. But when he ordered her to leave, she said she was terrified.

"I was scared to death I would be homeless again," she testified, explaining that for months she and her second husband and three children lived in Patapsco Valley State Park.

For days, Richard Eslin taunted her by saying that "Monday's coming," referring to her deadline to leave, cursed at her, and then kicked her for playing with his dog, Charlie, she said.

In the early morning hours of Jan. 17, after Richard Eslin vomited, his wife said she cleaned him up and put him to bed. When he wanted a towel to throw up again, she threw it on him, she said.

Soon she flew into a rage in which she saw red and orange, she testified.

"It felt like something broke," she said.

But under cross-examination, Deputy State's Attorney William D. Roessler said Eslin lies. For example, she has said she was treated for leukemia when no medical records mention it, Roessler said. She admitted lying about her education on a resume.

The trial is expected to continue at least through today.

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