An Alexan­dria woman

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY RACHEL WEINER

was con­victed of sec­ond­de­gree mur­der in the 2016 shoot­ing death of her hus­band.

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.

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 al­co­hol­fu­eled 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.

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.

“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.

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.

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