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Murder trial: Francis takes stand
Jurors view tape of police interrogation

COVINGTON - Jurors viewed Wednesday a video recording of the GBI's interrogation of Thomas Marlin Francis and heard him testify in his own defense on the second day of his murder trial at the Newton County Judicial Center.

Jurors also heard from a pair of mental health experts, as well as a bevy of witnesses called by Francis' defense attorney, David LaMalva.

In the recording of the interrogation made shortly after the death of Denise "Shelley" Francis, GBI Special Agent Brian Johnston appeared to be understanding and patient as he questioned Francis concerning the Oct. 31, 2006, killing at the couple's home in the Surrey Chase subdivision in Social Circle.

During the interview, Francis proceeded to describe his five-year marriage as a torturous ordeal, filled with constant bickering and berating from his wife. He said that on the eve of her death, the couple engaged in an especially fierce argument, in which she threatened physical violence.

The next morning, he detailed awaking in a separate room of the house - he and his wife had not shared a bed for quite some time, he said - to the sound of her drying her hair. "I knew she was capable of doing anything," he said.

He explained it was fear of what she might do that led him to take a loaded Glock 9mm handgun from his pillow and walk toward the master bathroom. "She came out of the corner with a knife, and I shot her two or three times," he said.

At that, he looked at Johnston and asked, "Is she OK?"

"No, she's not," was Johnston's reply.

"Did she die?" he asked.

"Yes," Johnston said.

"I'm sorry," Francis said. "She just wouldn't never leave anything alone."

Later in the questioning, it became clear that Francis' account of the shooting differed from the conclusions being reached in a concurrent GBI crime scene investigation back at the home. Johnston repeatedly pushed Francis on the number of times he shot his wife and the timing of those shots.

"I know I shot her twice, because I was always taught to shoot twice with an automatic trigger," said Francis, a former law enforcement officer.

Later, however, he told Johnston he shot her a third time.

After shooting her twice, Francis said she yelled "You shot me, you son of a bitch."

"Yep," he said was his reply, "I finally did."

"She said 'You're going to burn in hell,' and I said 'I probably will.' Then I shot her again."

Throughout the tape, and even during his cross-examination by Assistant District Attorney Melanie McCrorey on Wednesday afternoon when he took the stand in his own defense, Francis contradicted himself and appeared confused as to the sequence of shots and whether he ever delivered the third, fatal shot.

However, the tape revealed that as the interrogation neared a conclusion, Johnston again confronted Francis concerning the third shot. "What we're looking at in that house shows that you shot her (after she made a 911 call)," he said.

"She turned around, and I guess I shot her again," Francis replied.

Later, he said "She moved again, and then ... I don't remember shooting her and I do remember shooting her. ... I can't place the sequence of what I did when."

Also of interest to investigators was the location of the knife with which Francis claimed his wife had threatened him. It was found on the floor near his wife's body.

"There's blood under the knife," Johnston said during the interrogation. "Not on top. That leads us to believe that knife was put there after you shot her. I don't want you leaving here with this on your conscience. Did you go get that knife and put it there after the fact?"

"No sir," Francis said. "I'm positive."

Upon taking the witness stand, Francis responded to questions from his defense attorney, giving his account of his marriage, and the alleged ongoing verbal abuse he suffered at the hands of his wife. He also told of a few separate instances in which she physically attacked him, cutting his arm with a knife on one occasion and throwing a hammer and a flower pot at him on another.

In her cross-examination, McCrorey concentrated on picking apart the inconsistencies in Francis' testimony, as well as raising the question of why he allowed himself to be threatened for so long without leaving or avoiding confrontations.

In one example, she took issue with his testimony that he would often lock himself in his bedroom for fear that Denise Francis would enter the room and begin an argument or physically threaten him. He said, however, that his wife would simply take a key from the top of the door and let herself in.

"Why did you leave the keys above the door?" McCrorey asked. "You were not so afraid that you'd put the keys away."

Later, she asked why he didn't remove himself from their home.

"Did you ever leave your home and go stay in another home so you could feel safe?"

"No," he said. When asked why, he replied "I had my tools there and everything."

"So, you were not scared enough that it was worth the hassle of moving your tools?" she asked.

"I was trying my best to make this marriage work," he said.

Francis' account of the shooting took perhaps its biggest hit of the day during McCrorey's cross-examination.

When she asked him to point out on a floor plan of his home where his wife was standing with the knife when he shot her, Francis described her as standing with her back in the opposite corner of the room, rather than facing him as he stood in the doorway of the bathroom.

"Did she ever walk toward you with the knife?" McCrorey asked.

"No ma'am," he said.

"So, she backs up into the corner and you start pulling the trigger," she said.

Later, she asked what Francis was doing during the three-minute period of time between when his wife's call to 911 was cut off and he finally answered calls from 911 dispatchers attempting to re-establish contact with the injured woman.

"I didn't hear it," he replied.

"Were you shooting Shelley a third time?" McCrorey asked.

"Yeah, I saw her move and it startled me," he said. "I think I shot her."

Also called to the stand to testify in Francis' defense were several neighbors, friends and acquaintances that described witnessing Denise Francis' treatment of her husband and his alleged fear of her actions.

Finally came a pair of mental health experts giving opposing views on Francis' state of mind leading up to and during the shooting.

The defense's witness, Marti T. Loring, a licensed clinical social worker and director of Atlanta's Center for Mental Health and Human Development, testified that after an examination of Francis in late June and early July of this year, she had concluded that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and battered persons syndrome at the time of the shooting.

"At the very time the tragedy happened," she said, "I don't think he was thinking.

An expert witness called by McCrorey, however, said she believed Francis was fully aware of what he was doing.

Forensic psychologist Dr. Andrea Elkon said her evaluation of Francis showed he knew right from wrong, and that he knew the possible implications of his actions.

"In his accounts after the shooting, what he offered was a lot of reason why he did what he did. ... He hung up the phone when he knew she called 911. He unloaded the gun because he didn't want the law to be angry ... In the interview (with Johnston) he nods and says yes, he knew what he did was wrong. ... This showed calm, organized, clear thinking," she said.

"It's my opinion he was criminally responsible for his actions."

The defense rested its case Wednesday evening, and the trial was scheduled to continue today at 9 a.m.