Should a life of abuse justify homicide?
Charlene and Danny Hill
It's the first question most people ask: Why would Charlene Hill stay in an abusive relationship for almost 30 years?
"There was a good Danny and there was a bad Danny," Charlene told Richard Schlesinger. "You know, you've got to remember, Danny and I worked together side by side...there were good times...but...it was a rollercoaster ride for a long time."
Even her closest friends, like Jennifer Hinch and Susan Watts, searched for answers.
"Those vows said for better and worse and she meant it and she kept 'em," said Hinch.
II think they were each other's drug, that they couldn't live without the other and didn't want to live without the other," said Watts.
And now the most painful details of this baffling and broken relationship are about to be exposed again in court by Charlene's own lawyers.
"...that her life was in jeopardy that she was in danger of serious bodily injury," defense attorney George Parnham told the court.
"Not only is she physically punished, she is mentally punished as well," Parnham told Schlesinger. "She knows full well that he has absolute control of her."
Witnesses testified about Danny's violent history.
"He started yelling and screaming and throwing things around. So Char and I hid under a picnic table..." Cindy Messina told the court.
"I was pointing at the door going... 'What are these holes in the door?' And he said 'I shot and missed,'" Hinch testified.
Another family friend, Jeff Douglas, is clearly uncomfortable as he recounts how Danny bragged to him about raping Charlene.
Jeff Douglas: He pushed her down on the bed.
George Parnham: What did he tell you?
Jeff Douglas: Well, something to the effect that, you know, after a while she enjoyed it.
Even Jeremy Hill, while testifying against his mother once again, has to admit Danny was capable of appalling violence.
George Parnham: Your father was somehow able to pick your mother up and put her into the passenger seat?
Jeremy Hill: Yes, sir.
George Parnham: What was he doing?
Jeremy Hill: He was choking her.
But prosecutors think the forensics prove, that on the night in question, Charlene was the dangerous one in that room.
"The bullets run the wrong way for this to be the what she said, the bullets run the wrong way for him to be coming at her," said prosecutor Chad Bridges.
"The bullet goes through the muscle of his upper right arm and exits his upper right arm, then re-enters his armpit," Medical Examiner Dr. Sara Doyle gestured as she addressed the court. "It goes through the right lung, the right diaphragm, the liver..."
It's not so much where the bullets ended up that's important to prosecutors -- it's where they entered Danny's body; the side of his right arm.
"So he would have to be standing facing away from her to get those.
Ninety degrees away?" Schlesinger asked Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Pustilnik.
"Ninety degrees away. Yes," he replied.
Dr. Pustilnik has studied the autopsy photos. He says Danny could not possibly have been coming at Charlene in the way she described, with his arms raised, ready to grab her.
"If he was coming at her at the time, where would he have been shot?" Schlesinger asked.
"It would be on his front surface. So, front of his chest, front of his abdomen," said Pustilnik.
"Do you remember where he was when you fired each of those three shots?" Schlesinger asked Charlene.
"No, he was just coming," she replied.
Based on the bullet wounds, Investigator Phipps says Danny had to be facing an exit, the door to the back patio. But Charlene's attorneys say Danny was threatening to go out to his truck to get a gun. And suddenly, he changed his mind.
"He goes like he's gonna go to the door. But rather than go to the door, he makes his move towards her," McWilliams demonstrated in the replica bedroom. "I think the state just doesn't believe that he actually turned to come at her...He's got wounds on his right side. Those wounds are totally consistent with exactly what we've described here."
"And you think that he got shot on his way while he was turning to come at her?" Schlesinger asked.
"Right," McWilliams replied.
Now, everyone is ready for Charlene to take the stand for the second time in this courtroom. And everyone will be surprised by how this case ends.
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