TAMPA -- Through tears in her murder-for-hire trial, Mary Stiles described the drunken beatings, the sexual abuse and the terror she suffered at the claw-like hands of her husband, the "Lobster Boy."
The last straw came when the sideshow performer with pincer arms and stub legs woke her with his familiar whiskey breath and a butcher knife to her throat, she testified Friday in Hillsborough Circuit Court.
" 'One of these days I'm going to kill you and your family, but the time isn't right,' " she quoted him as saying Thanksgiving weekend 1992. "Then he dropped the knife and crawled away."
"I didn't know if I was going to wake up the next morning -- if my family would be there," she said. "Something had to be done."
Two days later, a teenage neighbor who had been paid $1,500 shot 55-year-old Grady Stiles in the back of the head as he sat in his underwear in the living room of his Gibsonton trailer.
Defense attorney Arnold Levine says Mary Stiles arranged the slaying because she was in fear for her life and that she barely remembers the details because of post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Prosecutors contend the murder was planned over a period of weeks and that Stiles had many options to stop her husband's abuse short of killing him.
On the stand, the 56-year-old widow testified through sobs about how she married Stiles in 1958 and joined him on the sideshow circuit with acts such as the gorilla lady, human pincushion and man with the iron tongue. It was the only life Grady Stiles had known since age 7.
She said whiskey changed Stiles from a caring family man to a battering brute, who despite his deformities choked her with powerful arms, head-butted her in the mouth and at one point tried to rip a birth control device from her body.
Their first marriage ended in 1973 and she wedded Harry Glenn Newman, known as the "World's Smallest Man" on the carnival circuit. She divorced him in 1987 and married Stiles again in 1988 after he assured her he had stopped drinking.
She said the beatings resumed and intensified in the last two years of his life, when he sexually abused her with a blackjack and tried to smother her with a pillow when she suggested a divorce.
Asked why she did not just leave, she said she feared for the safety of her children, two of whom have been born with the same lobster claw deformity.
"Where would we go?" she asked. "I can't hide the whole family. They stand out."
If convicted, Mary Stiles faces up to life in prison on murder and conspiracy charges. Her son and Grady Stiles's stepson, Harry Glenn Newman III, 19, will be tried later on the same charges. He plans to use a similar "battered child" defense.
The triggerman, Christopher Wyant, 18, has been convicted of second-degree murder and conspiracy and sentenced to 27 years in prison.