Ex-Marshal Calls Wife's Killing Self-Defense

By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 13, 2006

John W. Ludwig doesn't deny he killed his wife in their Ashburn home last year, but he insists he did not murder her.

The former U.S. marshal told a Loudoun County jury yesterday that he shot his wife in self-defense after she "exploded" during an argument in their bedroom and she pointed a gun at him.

During nearly seven hours of testimony, Ludwig, 52, choked up as he recounted how a lovers' quarrel on July 4, 2005, turned deadly. He said his wife, Karen Ludwig, 38, was so filled with rage that veins were bulging from her neck and her face was "blood red."

The argument quickly turned physical, he said, when his wife began slapping him. He said he fell after she punched him in the left ear, and he found himself looking up at the barrel of a .380-caliber Walther pistol.

"At the time, I didn't think I had any other recourse. I really thought Karen was going to shoot me," Ludwig said. "I feel responsible for what happened. But I did what I had to do. I reacted to a threat. I'm not guilty of murder."

Ludwig repeatedly said that he shot his wife in self-defense and that his reaction was the natural result of years of law-enforcement training. But when Loudoun Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert M. Vernail pressed him, Ludwig acknowledged that his memory of what happened was clouded by alcohol and drugs he ingested that day. When he was arrested, Ludwig didn't say that his wife had had a gun; he testified that he recalled later that she did.

He waited nearly two days to call a 911 operator to report his wife's death.

"Things were just a blur. It was like I was in a dream world," Ludwig said.

Ludwig at times became tearful in the crowded Loudoun courtroom as he talked about his last hours with his wife. He said that he loved his wife but that the two had been having problems for more than a year. He said things spiraled out of control after Karen Ludwig lost control of her motorcycle as they left a July 4 cookout. When they returned home, he said, she began blaming him for the accident and belittling him.

"She told me the reason she stopped making love to me was because I was a bad lover and her past boyfriend was a better lover than me," Ludwig said.

The shooting occurred after Ludwig said he was going to sleep in a spare room, he said.

"She was pointing the gun at me, and she was saying I was worth more dead than I was alive," Ludwig said through tears.

He said that he did not remember much that followed, but that before he knew it he had shot his wife five times with his Smith & Wesson service revolver.

"I knew Karen was dead. I knew I'd shot her, but I wasn't aware of all the circumstances," he said.

Vernail pressed Ludwig to explain why he had trouble remembering whether his wife had a gun that night and why he didn't mention the weapon when authorities questioned him.

"So, I guess your testimony is that you don't remember what you don't remember," Vernail said.

Ludwig, who was married three times before marrying Karen in 2002, said that his memory of what happened was hazy for weeks afterward and that it wasn't until his wife had been dead for more than a month that he remembered that she had pointed a gun at him.

The trial is expected to last through next week.

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