When Kenneth W. Green, a farmhand with a history of rough living, died of a gunshot wound to the chest Aug. 22, 1988, at a horse barn in The Plains, there was an accepted version of how it happened:
Green shot himself, then stumbled out of his apartment bedroom and down a flight of stairs, took a soda from a refrigerator, sat in a chair in a storeroom, returned the drink to the refrigerator, then lay down to die.
An emergency room form filled out shortly after his body was taken to Fauquier Hospital that day said Green, 53, had "called his daughter . . . sometime this morning, telling her that he was going to kill himself."
The next morning, the Northern Virginia Medical Examiner's Office ruled the death a suicide in a report completed hours before the body was signed over to a funeral home.
And so it was that the Green family, working-class daughters and a son of the Virginia Piedmont, buried their father, believing they also were burying the dark secrets of his and their lives. But 10 years later, when they had virtually ceased to speak of him, any semblance of normalcy was torn apart.
On the evening of May 10, 1998, one of Green's daughters, Mary Embrey, now 34, told police that she had shot her father, according to court records, because he had raped her younger sister just days before and Embrey herself over several years while she was growing up. She was indicted on murder charges by a grand jury in November and is free on bond.
Embrey's statement to police--which her attorneys said she recanted the next day--came not long after Gary M. Knowles, her former boyfriend and the father of her two young children, went to police implicating her in Green's death, according to court records.
On Tuesday, Embrey's trial will begin in Fauquier County Circuit Court. Central to the case will be not only the boyfriend's motives in going to police but also the grim details of Green's alleged conduct.
"This is dredging up some very painful memories for the family," said Lorie O'Donnell, the public defender who is representing Embrey. She said the case has been unusual in almost every aspect.
"I think the public would be absolutely appalled to know that the prosecution is going forward," O'Donnell said. "It's just more tragedy."
By all accounts, the lives of the six Green daughters and one son were in the hands of troubled parents. According to medical records, Green had a history of heavy drinking. And, according to court records, a history of something more sordid.
"Mr. Green had physically and mentally abused his children . . . for a period of many years," a defense motion states.
According to other court records, Embrey, who dropped out of high school after the 11th-grade, herself fell victim to this treatment. In part because of that abuse, her attorneys said, she remains under psychiatric treatment. Some time after her father's death, she and her husband parted company. She later lived with Knowles and was living in a shelter for battered women when she gave her statement to police, according to court records. In recent years, she has worked part time as a maid.
Family members who asked not to be identified said they think Knowles was using the murder allegation as a tactic to win custody of the children. Knowles, a crane operator who lives in Culpeper, confirmed in an interview Thursday that he was in the middle of a custody battle with Embrey last year when he brought her to the attention of police. He said he would rather not talk about why he went to the police.
Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney J. Gregory Ashwell said the prosecution does not intend to call Knowles as a witness but would not say why. He said prosecutors will base their case on Embrey's own statements.
"We have a person who's been killed by the use of a weapon coupled with a confession by a person who says that they were the actor who used the weapon to kill the person. That's the crux," Ashwell said.
Embrey's attorneys said they don't know whether they will call Knowles to testify. They said they would address his role in an effort to cast doubt on Embrey's initial statements to police. The defense introduced a transcript of Knowles's statements during pretrial hearings; the judge admitted parts of the statements and sealed them.
Embrey "was not in a clear state of mind when she made those statements. It was a false confession," O'Donnell said. She added that the defense has "a clear theory" about Green's motive for suicide, which involves his alleged rape of his daughters, but that she would not discuss details until the trial.
Embrey's transcribed statements are part of the court record.
At the beginning of the interview, which began at 10:25 p.m., Detective Erich Junger said: "Okay, Mary, you might recall that Gary and I came and spoke to you a little while ago about your father's death."
Embrey replied, "Right."
Junger continued, "And that was because we had gotten some information from Gary Knowles that you might have been involved in his death." Embrey went on to say that she confronted her father and forced him to get on his knees in front of a rifle barrel and explain why he raped her sister. Even then, according to the transcript, she said her father showed no remorse and used coarse terms to describe his actions.
O'Donnell said the defense will present at least six witnesses who say they saw Embrey several miles away during the time of the death at the horse farm.
Horse trainer Doug Fout, who owns the barn and has been subpoenaed as a possible witness at the trial, said in an interview that no farmhands saw anyone enter or leave the barn during the time of Green's death. Fout, who was Green's employer and saw his body minutes after his death, said he saw no signs of a struggle.
According to Fout and defense attorneys, Green was shot in the upstairs bedroom, then walked down the stairs to the tack room. "He got a soda. . . . He could have called for help if he wanted to. There was a phone in the bedroom" and in the tack room, Fout said.
As for the upcoming trial, Fout said, "I thought this was over and done with."