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Lobster Boy ‘Like Satan Himself,’ Daughter Testifies

July 22, 1994 GMT

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) _ Born with the same claw hands and stump legs as their father, two children of a sideshow performer known as the Lobster Boy hoisted themselves to the witness stand Thursday and described him as a brutal drunk.

″He was like Satan himself. ... Very cruel, very cold-hearted, very sadistic,″ Cathy Berry testified at the trial of her mother, Mary Stiles.

Mrs. Stiles is charged with murder for paying a teen-age neighbor $1,500 to shoot and kill her husband, Grady Stiles Jr., two years ago.

She must rely entirely on her own words and those of her children to convince a jury that years of abuse left her no choice.

Experts who were ready to testify that she was a battered spouse acting in self-defense were disallowed earlier in the day by Judge William Fuente, who ruled that Mrs. Stiles was not in imminent danger at the time of the slaying.

Late Thursday, Mrs. Stiles took the stand for the second time in the two- week trial, acknowledging that her husband did not abuse her the night of the slaying but saying previous threats against her made it a case of kill or be killed.

″I knew on that day (he) was either going to have to die, or at any moment myself or my children were going to be killed,″ she said.

Mrs. Stiles, 56, could get life behind bars if convicted.

The victim was known to carnival audiences as Lobster Boy because of his pincerlike hands, a result of a rare genetic condition.

Grady Stiles III, 17, testified that only days before his father’s 1992 slaying, he broke through a locked door to rescue his stepmother from his father’s drunken attack. ″My father was on top of her, choking her,″ he said.

″He would constantly threaten to kill her, constantly,″ the 25-year-old Ms. Berry said.

A daughter of Stiles who was born with no defects, 30-year-old Donna Miles, described how in 1978 her father asked to meet privately with a man she hoped to marry.

″I heard a bang and then I heard another one,″ she testified, saying Stiles had shot her boyfriend. The young man stumbled out of the house and died.

She said her father poked his head out a window, smiled and said ″Better him than me.‴

Stiles was convicted of third-degree murder in 1979. He was sentenced to 15 years probation, partly because he had liver cirrhosis from heavy drinking and emphysema from smoking three packs a day.

Ms. Berry said she was seven months pregnant when she intervened in her wheelchair to stop her drunken father from striking her mother in 1990.

″I told him, ’You prefer the bottle to your family,‴ she said. ″Then he started hitting on me ... with his fist. He hit me in the arm, in the jaw. He hit me to the point he knocked me out of the chair.″

The next morning, she said, her womb started bleeding, but she didn’t say anything. ″You didn’t dare tell,″ she said. ″The beatings would only get worse.″

Within hours, she was rushed to a hospital and had an emergency Caesarean section, delivering a daughter with the same lobster claw deformities.