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Man found guilty of slaying wife
Jury convicts Francis on all counts

CONYERS - It took only an hour Thursday for a jury to find Thomas Marlin Francis, 63, guilty on all counts in the 2006 murder of his wife, Denise "Shelley" Francis, 52.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Thursday morning at 9:30 at the Newton County Judicial Center, where he will be sentenced on a total of 12 counts, including malice murder, felony murder, aggravated assault, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, family violence battery and obstruction of an emergency call.

Attorneys for the prosecution and the defense made their closing statements Thursday morning, following a two-day trial that saw testimony from police officers, forensics experts, doctors, family members, friends and mental health experts. Jurors also viewed a recording of Francis' interrogation after the shooting and heard a 911 tape featuring a call from the victim moments before her death and a conversation with Francis made three minutes after the 911 dispatcher's call with Denise Francis was cut.

The 911 calls played prominently in Assistant District Attorney Melanie McCrorey's jarring closing arguments.

"This is Shelley," she said, holding up a photograph of the victim. "She was a daughter, she was a sister, she was a wife, she was a worker, and she was a friend. Thanks to the defendant, she's not here today."

McCrorey described the morning of Oct. 31, 2006: "She was blow-drying her hair. She had gotten her clothes together for the day - Halloween. She was going to wear a pumpkin sweater. ... Tommy came in that bathroom with a 9mm Glock, locked and loaded, racked and ready to kill her."

The state maintained that Francis came upon his wife sitting at a vanity in the master bathroom and fired his gun twice, shooting her through the cheek and in her chest as she sat at the mirror.

He then left the room, before hearing his wife on the phone as she made her call for help, she said.

"These are her final words," McCrorey said as she hit play on the 911 recording. Several jurors visibly winced, some looked down at the ground, as they listened to Denise Francis' desperate pleas for help, made difficult to distinguish due to the shot through her mouth and tongue, which blew out several of her teeth.

"I've been shot. ... Help me. ... He's kicking me," she said, before the line went dead - when investigators say Francis tore the line from the phone, throwing it under the bed.

It was at that point, prosecutors say, that Francis delivered the third shot to the back of Denise Francis' head, killing her instantly.

Meanwhile, 911 dispatchers were attempting to reestablish contact, calling the home repeatedly for three minutes, before Francis answered the phone.

"Over three minutes," McCrorey emphasized. "What was he doing in that three minutes?"

"He was planting a knife and coming up with what he was going to say," she concluded.

Attorney Alvin Leaphart delivered the defense's closing remarks, comparing his client to a badly beaten dog. "How do you make a good dog mean?" he asked. "You abuse it."

"What turned Tommy from being a good, patient, peaceful man who resorted to violence? ... Just as (GBI Special Agent) Brian Johnston said in his interview, 'A person can only take so much.'"

Leaphart painted a picture for the jury of his client being a helpless victim of his wife, taking constant verbal abuse and threats for years before finally lashing out. "Tommy's mind was clouded with fear."

The defense argued that Denise Francis had also thrown away Francis' Zoloft prescription. "Was it the lack of Zoloft that pushed him to that point?" he asked. "What happened that morning? I don't think we really know. But for that abuse, but for his torment ... we would not be here."

Following the closing arguments, the jury retired to deliberate for an hour before returning the guilty verdicts.

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, the victim's mother, Gloria Parnell, said that the verdict was welcome, but a small comfort.

"There are no winners," she said. "It broke my heart, because Shelley loved Tommy. He took a life, and he could have just walked away."

She added that although the information was not raised in court, she believed the reason her daughter had been so openly critical of Francis was because he had been involved in an adulterous affair, and Denise Francis was overcome with anger and grief.

"That's why Shelley was so upset and stayed on Tommy all the time. She wasn't going to share him," Parnell said. "No woman wants her husband to be having an affair with another woman. ... When they were first married, she was gloriously happy."

After the verdict was announced, Parnell said Francis' daughter-in-law and half-sister approached her in the courtroom, hugging her and expressing their sympathy. "That has done me more good," Parnell said through tears. "It's just a sad situation."

Following the return of the guilty verdicts, McCrorey said, "We're pleased with the outcome. All we ever wanted was justice for Shelley, and today the jury delivered it."

Defense attorney David LaMalva said Thursday afternoon that he was disappointed on behalf of his client, and would explore any further possibilities, including filing an appeal.