Woman gets life sentence in husband's murder

He had discovered her large credit card debt

May 05, 2004|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A Shady Side woman was sentenced yesterday to life in prison for murdering her husband, a slaying she blamed on spousal abuse but which prosecutors say stemmed from his discovery of her five-figure credit card debt.

Terry Harriet Pierce Eslin, 59, wept as she pleaded with Anne Arundel County Circuit Judge Nancy Davis-Loomis for leniency in the killing of her husband of 15 years, Richard P. Eslin, as he slept.

"I cannot get over that I did it. But I did not intend to do it," she said, contending -- as she did during her weeklong trial -- that her husband was a "very brutal and harsh man."

On Jan. 17, 2003, she shot him repeatedly in the head while he was in a drug-induced sleep, beat him with the rifle until it broke, wrapped him and his bloody bedclothes in a tarp from one of the couple's cars and secured the bundle with elastic straps, prosecutors said.

Earlier that week, he had given her several days to leave their home, after discovering at least $10,000 of her secret $48,000 credit card debt. A jury convicted her in March of first-degree murder.

"Mr. Eslin may have been a difficult person to live with. There are always options. Murder is not one of those options," Davis-Loomis said.

Prosecutors, who sought a sentence of life without the possibility of parole, said they thought the sentence was fair, given that Eslin has no prior convictions.

Eslin will be eligible for parole consideration after serving 15 years, though credit for good behavior in prison could reduce that time by a few years.

"That's a long sentence, particularly at her age," said her attorney, former judge James C. Cawood Jr.

He said Eslin probably would ask the Office of the Public Defender to handle an appeal based, in part, on Davis-Loomis' refusal to allow defense testimony that would have shown that Richard Eslin had a harsh side.

Cawood also said he was not sure whether Eslin would ask a judicial panel to shorten her sentence.

During the trial in March, Eslin unsuccessfully asked jurors to find that she was temporarily insane at the time of the slaying because of battered spouse syndrome.

More recent letters to the court on her behalf referred to the husband as being short-tempered and harsh. Terry Eslin contended that she endured physical and verbal abuse -- she testified he kicked her for playing with his dog days before the slaying -- and that she had left her husband more than once.

But when he ordered her to leave after learning of her credit card debt, she was terrified, and according to Cawood's statements at her trial, she snapped.

Prosecutors laid out a different scenario.

Yesterday, Assistant State's Attorney Laura S. Kiessling depicted the husband as frugal, helpful and -- alluding to trial testimony by Terry Eslin's son from a previous marriage -- "the best father" her son had.

During the trial, prosecutors portrayed a vicious crime planned by a woman who previously lied about other things and kept secret from her husband seven years of weekly shopping sprees with friends that led to a soaring credit card debt.

Prosecutors theorized that she may have planned to dump her husband's body in the Chesapeake Bay but then couldn't move it out of the bedroom.

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