Mary Evelyn Embrey testified yesterday that she told sheriff's deputies she killed her father in The Plains 11 years ago because her ex-boyfriend, Gary Knowles, threatened to implicate her brother in the death if she didn't give him custody of their two small children.
"I had just given up," Embrey, 34, told a Fauquier County Circuit Court jury. "Nobody could stop Gary--he was just going to keep on and on and on."
She said that she was able to describe details of her father's death because she had learned them from Knowles and that she was able to provide a motive: "I learned about a week or two before that he had raped my younger sister. He was a mean guy and he had raped me when I was younger," Embrey said.
But Embrey said from the witness stand that she did not kill her father, Kenneth Green Sr., 53, and that she took responsibility only because her abusive boyfriend had pressured her for many months to confess. "He told me that if I didn't do what he wanted, he would kill my family," she said.
Prosecutors argued that Embrey knew details of the death she could not have learned from Knowles or anyone else who had not seen the official reports.
The jury heard closing arguments from both sides yesterday afternoon. When the murder trial began Tuesday, prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed on one thing: It would be a strange case.
In opening statements, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney J. Gregory Ashwell acknowledged that it was unusual to reopen a death that had been ruled a suicide. But he said Embrey's own words to police last year would convict her of killing Green, a farmhand and father of seven grown children, in retaliation for alleged sexual abuse.
If not for Embrey's statements last year, Ashwell said, "this case would otherwise be in some dust-covered box in the records of the sheriff. It stopped being a suicide in 1998."
But defense lawyer Lorie O'Donnell said it was strange that the prosecution was even bringing the case to trial, since it had no fingerprints, no witnesses, not even the murder weapon. "If this was a TV show, it would be called, 'The Nonsensical Case,' " said O'Donnell, who is representing Embrey with fellow public defender Cindy Decker.
O'Donnell presented the jury the defense's theory of the case: that Green deliberately shot himself in the chest, hoping to gain sympathy from his estranged wife after threatening suicide, and that Embrey was coerced into telling police she had killed him by her violent boyfriend. Embrey, O'Donnell said, was nowhere near the horse barn when Green died in the tack room, fingernail clippers in hand.
Several members of the Fauquier County Sheriff's Department who had been on the scene gave conflicting testimony over who decided not to pursue a murder investigation because the death appeared to be a suicide. The medical examiner, Frances Field, testified that she made a suicide ruling the next day, based partly on statements from investigators.
Prosecutor Ashwell, in his opening statements, conceded that the initial investigation into the death was "pathetic."
But circumstances changed in October 1997 when Embrey's disgruntled boyfriend, Knowles, went to police with details of Green's death. Sheriff's investigator Erich Junger testified that police initially were skeptical of Knowles because Knowles was trying to win custody of his and Embrey's two young sons and Embrey was living in a battered women's shelter.
Then, the following May, Junger testified, Knowles called the sheriff's office and said Embrey wanted to turn herself in for the death. Junger said that when Embrey spoke to investigators, her story was consistent with the way Green died.
Knowles was not called as a witness by either side, although the defense had asked to have him on call.
In testimony from Green's family members, who lived in Middleburg and The Plains at the time, new details emerged of how they viewed his death.
"He would cry wolf," said Paula Mae Carter, Embrey's older sister, who testified that she spoke with her father the day of his death and that he had threatened--again--to kill himself.
Embrey exchanged fleeting hand clasps with her two sisters as they walked away from the witness box Tuesday. They and one of her brothers, Kenneth W. "Bozo" Green Jr., testified that Kenneth Green Sr. had threatened to kill himself several times as a way to force a reconciliation with his wife.
In one later episode, all three siblings testified, Green faked a suicide attempt by taking potency pills. The fact that Green died of a gunshot wound to the right side of his chest came as no surprise to his son.
"He was always talking that if you shot someone, shoot them over the right side and they will walk away," Kenneth Green Jr. said.
Green's wife, Betty Green, testified yesterday that her husband threatened to kill himself many times when she left him--and that his threats sometimes persuaded her to return. A few weeks before his death, she told the jury, he had left a suicide note near a trailer home in West Virginia where she had sought refuge from what she described as an abusive relationship.
Betty Green said that when she was told by one of her daughters of her husband's death, she refused to go into the barn and view his body. "I figured it was just another one of his tricks--he might jump back up," she said.
Several witnesses testified that Embrey spent that day at Interhorse Farm outside Middleburg where she lived with her then-husband, who worked on the farm.
"I was with her that whole day," said James Furr Jr., a nephew who was 13 at the time. "She was cleaning the house and making breakfast."
Another defense witness was Deborah Chase, an administrator at a Culpeper battered women's shelter where Embrey lived in October 1997.
Chase said she was present during Embrey's initial interview with investigators after Knowles called police. During that interview, Chase said, Embrey denied involvement in the death. "She was surprised. The look on her face was, 'I can't believe this.' Gary is just trying to get the boys," Chase said.
She said she was shocked when she later learned that Embrey had confessed.