Laura Rogers killed her husband in April, shooting him as he slept and claiming it was a suicide. But when she pleaded guilty to manslaughter yesterday, 198 days after her arrest, an Anne Arundel County Circuit Court judge set her free.
Her husband, Walter Rogers, 43, had raped and impregnated her teenage daughter, a child from a previous marriage, both sides said in court. And the day before Laura Rogers leveled a shotgun at her husband's head, she watched a videotape he had made of the sex acts.
Judge Paul A. Hackner, who watched the tape in his chambers yesterday, called the slain man "a horrible human being" and effectively ordered that Laura Rogers, 36, be freed from jail. Although the abuse of her daughter was discussed at length during the proceeding, Hackner said a psychiatrist's diagnosis that Laura Rogers suffered from battered spouse syndrome was the more significant factor in his decision.
He sentenced her to 10 years in prison, then suspended all but the time she had served, telling her, "You'll be released sometime this afternoon."
Countless women have been abused by their spouses, and more than a few of them have resorted to homicide. Among those, however, a much smaller number later walked free -- and that is precisely what happened in Anne Arundel yesterday.
"It was the right thing to do," prosecutor Laura Kiessling said outside court. Kiessling did not object to the defense request for leniency for Laura Rogers, who had no criminal record.
"This man Walter Rogers was a sociopath who had it coming, and he got what he deserved," said Laura Rogers's attorney, Clarke F. Ahlers.
Walter and Laura Rogers, both divorced, had been married for 11 years. They lived in an apartment attached to an office building in a Laurel industrial park. He was a laborer, and she worked as a secretary when her husband permitted it, Ahlers said.
A deputy sheriff escorted her into court yesterday and removed her handcuffs. She turned to tearful family members and waved.
Later, in a brief statement, she declared her dedication to her three children. "I ask the court to see that I'm able to go home and give these children the love they not only need but that they deserve," she said.
Kiessling described the events that led to the slaying. She said Laura Rogers and her teenage daughter spent part of April 23 at a laundromat. At one point, Rogers went to a Wal-Mart to buy a shotgun. Her attorney said later that she did so at the direction of her husband, a convicted felon who could not purchase the gun himself.
Kiessling said that the girl, then seven months pregnant, told her mother she was being abused. The girl had previously made such claims but recanted and was, in fact, convicted of making false accusations. This time, she said, there was a videotape that would prove her allegations. She told her mother where to find the tape.
Rogers watched it. And DNA tests later confirmed what the tape suggested: that her husband was the father of her daughter's baby, Kiessling said. Rogers stayed up most of the night. Then, in the morning, she called police to their residence, saying her husband had shot himself.
An autopsy later found that the death was a homicide, and Laura Rogers admitted that she had pulled the trigger.
"To me it appeared that she was a person who had been pushed to the brink," Kiessling said outside court. She said Walter Rogers had abused his wife "psychologically and physically" and terrorized her by, for example, swinging a baseball bat so that it narrowly missed her head.
In addition, she said, a trial probably would have required that the girl testify against her mother. Kiessling said the girl, who has since given birth to her stepfather's baby, "has been victimized enough."
"It's time for it to be over for her," Kiessling said, adding later that Walter Rogers had abused the girl for nearly a decade.
Kiessling declined to discuss Walter Rogers's family or their thoughts about the plea arrangement except to say that "many of them were victims of his abuse as well."
Laura Rogers's attorney, Ahlers, called Walter Rogers "a person who took a sick and sadistic pleasure in killing the spirit of other people" and said that he "continued to rape the child even in pregnancy." Ahlers said the shooting was a homicide without a victim. "This man Walter Rogers abused people probably from adolescence to the time of his death."
Laura Rogers was released from the Anne Arundel Detention Center about 6 p.m. yesterday. In a scrum of reporters, she thanked her family and the judge and said that she was looking forward to hugging her children for the first time in seven months.