A veteran U.S. marshal told investigators that he "lost it" when his wife struck his head and insulted him during a July 4 argument, enraging him to the point that he shot her to death, according to evidence presented yesterday in a Loudoun County courtroom.
In a videotaped statement shown in court, John W. Ludwig, 51, said his wife, Karen M. Ludwig, 38, belittled his "manhood" as they quarreled in the master bedroom of their Ashburn home. He said he pushed her onto their bed and went for his gun.
"And before you know it, I shot her," he said in the video, calmly answering investigators' questions in a raspy voice.
Ludwig, a 17-year employee of the U.S. Marshals Service, was charged July 6 with first-degree murder in the slaying of his wife. At yesterday's preliminary hearing, Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court Judge Avelina S. Jacob sent the case to a grand jury, which is scheduled to meet Oct. 11. She denied Ludwig bond.
After firing his Smith & Wesson revolver -- he told investigators that he was not sure how many times -- Ludwig noticed that his wife was not moving and checked her pulse, he said. He said he found none.
Ludwig said he then ingested so much alcohol and medication, including Tylenol PM, that he passed out and did not wake up until two days later, when he reported the shooting to authorities. According to court documents, Ludwig called 911 and said, "I just shot my wife. . . . She's dead."
In the video, Ludwig told investigators that he disliked being touched on his head and that he had responded to it with rage.
Ludwig, dressed in an orange and white jail uniform, looked composed yesterday as he watched the video, much of which was barely audible. Several of his friends sat in the courtroom behind him. Family and friends of Karen Ludwig sat on the other side of the room, some growing visibly upset as the video played.
Alex Levay, Ludwig's attorney, argued that his client should be released on bond because he was neither a flight risk nor dangerous to others. He said Ludwig easily could have fled the country after the shooting -- he had several forms of identification and passports that had allowed him to travel undercover for the Marshals Service -- but chose not to, Levay said.
"Instead, he stayed, he called the police, he waited for the police, he cooperated with police," Levay sad.
Levay said the shooting was an isolated "domestic dispute." A friend of Ludwig's, Debbie Rieger, testified that she would allow Ludwig to live with her family if he were released and would not feel unsafe.
Levay also argued that the charge against Ludwig should be changed to manslaughter because the shooting was a "classic heat-of-passion situation." Jacob declined to do so.
Levay said Ludwig is on leave from the Marshals Service.
Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Robert M. Vernail argued that bond would be inappropriate, saying Ludwig could attempt to kill himself or flee.
"His prior employment is enough for him to be a flight risk," Vernail said. "He is experienced in assuming the identities of others."