A daughter and friends of Barbara Evans-Smith testified yesterday in Loudoun County Circuit Court that her husband, William (Bull) Evans-Smith, had become violent and had struck her in the months preceding her April 15 strangulation.
"She was depressed and distraught," Lesleigh Cook said in a soft voice as she testified about a conversation she had with her mother during the Christmas holidays last year. "She told me that my father had struck her."
Cook's testimony came on the sixth day of her father's trial on a charge of murder. The small courtroom of the Leesburg courthouse was filled for the first time during the trial and Cook's two sisters sat together on a front-row bench, clenching tissues in their hands and taking notes, just as they have since the trial began.
Cook, testifying as the final prosecution witness, said her 65-year-old mother related another incident to her at about the same time that involved her father, head of a foreign studies program at American University.
She said the incident, which she did not describe, "caused her [mother] to be fearful."
Evans-Smith, 64, a retired Army officer, has pleaded not guilty to killing his wife.
Prosecutors are attempting to prove he killed her at their farm home near the community of Hamilton and then attempted to cover up by making it appear his wife had been raped.
Cook yesterday also testified that her mother told her she had been having difficulty sleeping, laying awake, "because she was afraid."
Defense attorney Blair D. Howard asked Cook if, in the 20 years she had lived at home: "Did you ever see your father strike your mother?" Cook replied in a barely audible voice: "No."
Howard pressed the point, asking if Cook, from the time she married and returned to live near her parents' Crooked Run Farm, had seen her father strike her mother. Again, she said, she had not.
Cook testified that she went to her parents' rambling house, off Rte. 725, about 11 a.m. on April 15 to work on the farm, as she did about three times a week. "I called 'Mom!' " but no one answered, she said.
She said she called out again and again without receiving a reply. She walked into the house, she testified, and saw an overturned table and vase and bedroom slippers. She found her mother's favorite dog, Patience, locked in a laundry room. "I knew something was wrong."
Cook said she left the house and summoned friends on a CB radio in her truck, asking them to telephone the farm.
They did and got no answer, she said.
When the two friends arrived, Cook said, she pointed them to her mother's upstairs bedroom. One of them, Robert Brown, found Barbara Evans-Smith, lying on the floor with a pair of pantyhose wrapped three times around her neck and underwear stuffed in her mouth.
"They told me, 'Yes, that she was deceased,' " Cook said. "They wanted to get me away from the house."
Earlier yesterday Mary Pitz, who said she and her husband were friends of the couple, testified that Barbara Evans-Smith told her in the months preceding her death that she was concerned about her husband's health and his weight loss. "She said he was becoming more violent and easily upset," said Pitz.
Pitz described a dinner party at her house last Dec. 20.
"Bill wasn't in a very good mood," she said. "He was verbally abusive a couple of times to Barbara . . . . They were like putdowns."
When they got ready to leave, she said: "Bill turned around and said 'Damn it Barbara, come on or I'll push you in the pond.' " She said Barbara Evans-Smith told her: "You know I think he would."
Howard asked Pitz if, in the 14 to 15 years she had known the Evans-Smiths, had she ever seen the husband strike his wife.
"No," replied Pitz. "Mr. Howard, she said he was becoming more violent." Howard also asked Pitz if the defendant was known to be an opinionated man. "Yes," she answered.
Another friend, Duane Dean, testified yesterday that "I thought he (William Evans-Smith) was getting . . . much testier" in the months prior to his wife's death.
Barbara Evans-Smith "was concerned . . . very concerned," Dean said. "She thought Bull was getting much more violent." Not publicly, she said, but at home.
She also testified that William Evans-Smith told her that he had moved his money from Hamilton to The Riggs National Bank in the District. He put the money, which previously was in a joint account, in his name, she said.
"She could no longer use it," said Dean, who also said Barbara Evans-Smith was given an allowance by her husband that was not enough to buy pantyhose or shoes.
Under cross-examination, Howard asked whether Evans-Smith had mentioned that he moved the money to get a better interest rate. "Yes, he did," Dean replied.
Cook, whose soft-spoken testimony prompted a bailiff to push a microphone closer to her mouth, said she first saw her father about 5 p.m. at her house on the day her mother's body was discovered. "We embraced," Cook said. "He said, 'Oh Lesleigh, Lesleigh, Lesleigh.' " She said she did not see any tears from her father.
In response to a question from Loudoun prosecutor William Burch, Cook said she was aware of her father's relationship with Frederica Bunge, 59. "There were a few times over the course of the past 10 years that Dad and I touched on the subject . . . , " the daughter said.
There was one particular incident, she said, when her father acquired a boat and shotgun that belonged to Bunge. She said her father asked her not to tell her mother because "it would upset her.