It took a jury just one hour Wednesday evening to acquit a Fauquier County woman on trial for the murder of her father 11 years ago--a suicide case reopened in May 1998 after she told police that she shot him in the chest for raping her and her younger sister.
Mary Evelyn Embrey, now 34, recanted her statement the next day, her attorneys said.
On Wednesday, she testified in Fauquier County Circuit Court that she did not kill her father and confessed only because of pressure from her abusive ex-boyfriend, Gary Knowles, who had threatened to kill her family if she didn't do what he wanted. Embrey said Knowles also threatened to implicate her brother in the death if she didn't give him custody of their two young children. Knowles did not testify during the two-day trial.
Embrey showed no emotion as she listened to the not-guilty verdict, while several family members cried silently in the back of the courtroom.
Jury foreman Stephen Brubaker said a majority of jurors were in favor of acquittal from the start of deliberations. Strong emotions did not sway the jury, he said, but a lack of evidence did. Prosecutors did not find witnesses placing the defendant at the scene and failed to produce any physical evidence, such as a gun, to connect Embrey to the crime, he said. "The commonwealth didn't do its job," Brubaker said.
In opening statements, Deputy Commonwealth's Attorney J. Gregory Ashwell said Embrey's statement to police was proof that she had killed Kenneth W. Green Sr., a farmhand who allegedly had sexually and mentally abused several of his seven children. Prosecutors also argued that Embrey knew many details of the death known only to investigators.
Although defense attorneys questioned the prosecution's decision to bring the case to trial, Ashwell said the choice was easy. "I could not sit by knowing that I had a death coupled with someone confessing to a murder," he said.
Embrey's statement to police came just a few months after Knowles had told them that she was involved in Green's 1988 death.
The 53-year-old Green died of a gunshot wound to the chest Aug. 22, 1988, at a horse barn in The Plains. After Green was shot, he apparently stumbled down the stairs, took a soda from a refrigerator, sat in a chair in a storeroom, returned the drink to the refrigerator and then lay down to die. His death was ruled a suicide by the Northern Virginia medical examiner's office.
According to medical and court records, Green had a history of heavy drinking and abusing his children. Defense attorneys also showed that he had threatened to kill himself several times before his death.
Public Defender Lorie O'Donnell, one of Embrey's attorneys, said a strong alibi for Embrey was key in the jury's decision. Witnesses placed her several miles from the horse barn where her father died, O'Donnell said.
Ashwell said many people he interviewed disliked Green and felt he "got what he deserved."
"I argued this case as best as I could," Ashwell said. "But when the victim of a homicide crime is considered a scoundrel, it's hard to get sympathy for the case. It's hard to get a conviction."
But Cindy Decker, the other public defender who represented Embrey, said the jury's decision was based more on sympathy for Embrey than disdain for her father.
"The victim clearly was not a very nice man," Decker said. "What was more compelling beyond that was how she had been coerced into [confessing], of how awful her life has been and how low she had gotten."