Should a life of abuse justify homicide?
Charlene and Danny Hill
After a husband and wife face off in the bedroom, a father is gunned down and a mother is on trial. Richard Schlesinger reports.
Produced by Clare Friedland and Jenna Jackson
[This story was first broadcast on Jan. 21. It was updated on June 30]
(CBS NEWS) FORT BEND COUNTY, Texas -- "He was a very calm, loving person and he was an awesome Dad. That was my best friend," Jamie Hill said. "It's just really hard. Every day it's a struggle without my Dad here."
More than five years after her father, Danny Hill, was shot to death, Jamie still has questions for the person who pulled the trigger: Her own mother, Charlene Hill.
"None of it made sense at all," Jamie told "48 Hours." "Why don't you get a divorce? Why don't you, you know, just do something besides murder, murder."
"I relive that night so many times...my mind replays that night," Charlene said in tears. "Do I wish I could change it? Oh, God."
That night, a 25-year marriage came to a sudden and violent ending.
"48 Hours Mystery" built a full-scale replica of that room to try and solve the mystery of how and why Charlene Hill shot her husband Danny. Nothing is as it seemed in this case - not the characters, not their motives. "48 Hours Mystery" has been following case the since it began.
The case went to trial not once, but twice. And nobody could ever have expected how it ended.
Before she took his life in that room... they built a life together.
"I loved Danny," Charlene told "48 Hours Mystery" correspondent Richard Schlesinger. "Danny will always be a part of me."
Charlene and Danny raised three children, made millions with their landscaping and storage businesses near Houston, and made plans to retire to their ranch in the Texas hill country.
"We were looking at building our house right here," Charlene explained in 2010, looking out at the undeveloped land on their ranch. "It's rough, knowing that this was our dream and he's gone."
But there were two sides to Danny Hill. While Jamie talks about the loving father, Charlene remembers the man who could also suddenly turn violent.
"He punched me," she told Schlesinger.
"Where would he punch you?"
"Well, that time he punched me in the face," she replied.
And according to Charlene, that wasn't the worst of it. Early in their marriage, she says Danny discovered she was planning to leave him.
"After knocking me around, he...tied me to a chair, and poured gasoline on me and stood there with a lighter and told me if I ever tried to
leave, he'd kill me," she said.
Over the years, Charlene's calls to 911 and trips to the emergency room were well-documented. But she always refused to press charges.
"I was afraid of what would happen if I did," she explained.
"But you needed help," noted Schlesinger.
"What are they gonna do? Arrest him?" Charlene said. "He's out within a couple of hours. Where do I go?"
Charlene claims she was never more afraid of her husband than on the night of Nov. 14, 2006, that Danny came home in a rage and that she had no choice but to shoot him in self-defense.
"I knew I couldn't outrun him," Charlene told Schlesinger.
"And what would he have done if he had got you?" he asked.
"He'd a killed me."
"You have no doubt? He would have killed you, you know that?
"Yes," she said, nodding.
According to Charlene, it was a small thing that set Danny off that night. They had recently sold their storage business to Danny's brother, Craig, and Danny had been told to remove his belongings from one of the storage units.
"He was angry, he was frustrated, he was going through all types of different emotions," she explained.
Charlene says Danny was so angry, he was threatening to kill not only the new manager of the storage facility, but even members of his own family. She thought she could calm him down by cooking his favorite meal: Chicken and dumplings.
"And you thought that would make him happy?" Schlesinger asked.
"Oh, yeah," she replied. "It would help him relax."
But, she says, that night, it didn't work.
"When I came back into the bedroom...his rage centered on me. He was angry that I was trying to calm him down," she said. "I'd seen the look in his eyes before, yes, but I had never seen it like I did that night."
So, Charlene says, she took her gun out of her nightstand and laid it on the bed.
"I thought the gun would keep him at bay so I could retreat," she said.
"It did just the opposite."
At this point, the two were standing at opposite sides of the bed. But Charlene claims Danny started coming at her.
"I didn't know how to stop him," she said.
So Charlene picked up the gun and she shot her husband three times.
After the shooting, Charlene called 911. The paramedics were already working on Danny when Fort Bend County Sheriff's Deputy Jose Trevino arrived.
"You know, he was in pain...he was moaning," Trevino told Schlesinger. "I didn't know if he was gonna make it or not at the time ... I was standing at his feet, leaned over, talking to him ... 'Danny, who shot you? Danny tell me who shot you.'"
"And what did he say?"
"He said 'my wife.'"
With his dying breath, 49-year-old Danny Hill had identified his wife as his killer. Charlene was arrested that night and charged with murder.
"It's taken a little bit of all of our souls and our hearts," said Jamie. While she admits her father was sometimes abusive, Jamie claims her mother was often the instigator.
"I was there; I lived it, and...my mom was the one that would provoke things," she said. "You could only push a dog in a corner so much until it bites back. And that's what she did."
Ultimately, it was something Charlene said shortly after making bail that her children say convinced them this was not an open-and-shut case of self-defense.
"She had said that he wasn't coming at her, he didn't put his hands on her," son Jeremy told Schlesinger.
"She said that to you? That he was not coming at her, he did not put his hands on her?"
"Yes," replied Jeremy.
"Do you remember what you said to her?"
"No, but I felt sick to my stomach," he replied. "After that was said...my brother and I knew for sure...that this was murder."
Jamie believes she knows the real motive: "She wants it all... She wants the money..."
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