Rolf Marshall was killed during a drunken dispute over a dog bite.
“My husband gave me a gun,” Paula Thompson Marshall would tell a 911 dispatcher just after shooting her husband Oct. 5. “I didn’t know it was loaded. He was being stupid about the dog, and now I’ve shot him accidentally.”
That morning, Thompson Marshall had been bitten on the hand by their aging Akita, and prosecutors and defense attorneys agree that led to a bitter fight in the couple’s Alexandria home. Thompson Marshall had for months argued that it was time to put the dog down, but her husband had resisted.
She told police that Marshall tossed her a .38-caliber revolver and told her, “ ‘Here’s a loaded gun. If you want to shoot it, go ahead.’ ” She fired, once, hitting her husband’s side as he sat across from her in his favorite armchair.
After a three-day trial in Alexandria Circuit Court, a jury Thursday found Thompson Marshall guilty of murder in the second degree and use of a firearm in commission of a felony, and returned a sentence of 14 years on the charges. A judge will set a sentencing hearing and can impose the jury’s sentence, suspend or reduce it, but not increase it.
The slaying was one of seven in Alexandria in 2016.
Rolf Marshall was a longtime Navy captain and maritime lawyer. He and Thompson Marshall, an aesthetician who worked in area beauty salons, had married about 12 years before his death.
In court, before the jury was to begin deliberating a sentence, Alex and Eric Marshall told jurors their father was a brilliant man who loved his family and the sea. After he married Thompson Marshall, however, he withdrew from family and friends, they said.
“For the last 10 years, everything has been different,” Eric Marshall testified. “Now that he’s gone . . . that withdrawal is final.”
The dog was one stressor in a marriage that had several, testimony showed.
Marshall, 76, was suffering from prostate cancer. In a video played at trial, his wife, 47, berated him for not taking better care of himself.
“You’re going to die at 79, and I’m counting the f---ing hours and minutes,” she said. Neighbors testified that months before the shooting, Thompson Marshall had complained about her husband’s health. In another video played at trial, she told her husband she had met someone else and wanted a divorce.
Financial problems also created strains. Records show their Old Town Alexandria homeowners’ association sued them for failing to pay dues. They also were behind on their mortgage and in trouble with the Internal Revenue Service.
Both drank too much, both sides conceded, and they were drinking the morning of the shooting. One neighbor, Dani Lane, testified that the constant fighting was so bad that she couldn’t sit on her patio: It was “like watching a Hitchcock movie,” she said.
Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter argued that the killing could not have been accidental. It’s clear when a revolver is loaded, he said, because the bullets are visible. And to fire a revolver, you must either cock the hammer or give “a relatively long, heavy pull” on the trigger, a state expert testified.
“When you get into an alcohol-fueled argument with your husband, when you pick up a loaded gun and point it at your husband, when you do that and pull the trigger, that’s really the end of the rope,” Porter said. “We’re not saying she’s a psychotic killer or public enemy number one, but that this murder was the result of 12 to 18 months of a deteriorating marriage marked by verbal abuse and financial difficulties.”
Defense attorney Marina Medvin pointed to Thompson Marshall’s panic and despair after the shooting as evidence that she had no intention of killing her husband. In her call to 911, she repeatedly shouts his name. When she got into a police cruiser, she was crying hysterically. At the police station, a crime scene investigator testified, Thompson Marshall curled in the fetal position and continued to cry.
“Paula was not the nicest in how she talked in the past,” Medvin conceded in her closing arguments. But she emphasized that there was no evidence of physical violence in the marriage. To the neighbors, she said, Thompson Marshall was “too blunt, too truthful” — and was equally honest in labeling her husband’s death an accident.
After the verdict, Medvin told jurors that the Marshall marriage was “troubled,” but based in love. “It’s hard to put into words how deeply my client misses her husband,” she said. Whenever she is released from prison, Medvin promised, “she will not be returning to alcohol.”
Several days after Marshall’s death, the dog was euthanized.