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Texas Woman Innocent of Murder

January 23, 1998 GMT

BROWNSVILLE, Texas (AP) _ A woman who spent nine years in prison for the shooting death of her husband before winning a new trial was acquitted of murder Friday, ending a decade-long crusade to prove he killed himself.

Susie Mowbray gasped as the judge read the verdict. Several people in the packed courtroom applauded.

``This is how the justice system is supposed to work. This says that first trial was a farce,″ said Robert Ford, one of Mrs. Mowbray’s attorneys.

After the verdict was read, Mrs. Mowbray’s son _ a Louisiana law student who spearheaded efforts to prove his mother’s innocence _ and daughter rushed over to hug her.

``Thank God it’s over. We have been living with this burden and this hell for 10 years,″ said Mrs. Mowbray.

Jurors who deliberated about 10 hours before reaching their verdict got the case Thursday following a dramatic courtroom outburst by Mrs. Mowbray, who burst into tears and shouted, ``I didn’t do it!″

Prosecutors said Mrs. Mowbray, 49, shot her husband, car dealer Bill Mowbray, in 1987 as he slept for $1.8 million in insurance money. She insisted he killed himself because of depression and financial problems at his Cadillac dealership.

The question of whether Mowbray’s death was murder or suicide rested largely on the testimony of experts who looked at the pattern of blood spatters.

Mrs. Mowbray was convicted of killing her husband in 1988 and sentenced to life in prison. But she won a new trial in 1996 after an appeals court ruled that prosecutors suppressed a blood expert’s report contradicting the homicide theory. She was released from prison last year pending her retrial.

The blood expert took the stand Wednesday and testified that the lack of blood on the sleeve of Mrs. Mowbray’s nightgown indicates she did not kill her husband. Dr. Herbert MacDonell told jurors he believed it was more likely that Mowbray committed suicide.

Prosecutors based their case on the theory that Mowbray could not have shot himself because he was found in his normal sleeping position covered with a blanket and there was no blood on his right hand or arm.

Defense attorneys argued that prosecutors had lied by suppressing evidence prior to Mrs. Mowbray’s first trial, then seeking out other evidence that would support their homicide theory.

The jury agreed.

``The outcome of this trial was due to the improper handling of the evidence,″ said foreman Edward Saldivar.

Mrs. Mowbray’s son, Wade Burnett, said the jury’s decision ``shows an enormous amount of courage.″

Kristin Mowbray, Bill Mowbray’s only child, said she and her family were ``extremely disappointed″ by the verdict.

``She got away with murder, literally, and we know the truth and a lot of people know the truth,″ said Ms. Mowbray, 27.

The defense presented evidence showing Mowbray was in dire straits at the time of his death. His dealership was broke, his right-hand man had taken a job elsewhere, and he faced criminal prosecution by the IRS.

The defense also argued that Mowbray had attempted suicide in the past and had threatened to take his own life just days before his death.

In closing arguments, defense attorney Jim Shaw cited the testimony of a banker who said Mowbray came to see him about two days before the shooting, pleading for a loan and vowing to commit suicide if he didn’t get the money.

``He promised him, `I will kill myself if you don’t help me,′ and he didn’t help him,″ Shaw said. ``This man had made a decision to kill himself.″