Testimony begins in shooting death trial

Man accused of killing wife

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Conyers defense attorney David LaMalva, right, confers with his client, Thomas Francis, on Tuesday during a break in Francis’ murder trial. Francis is accused of killing his wife, Denise, on the morning of Oct. 31, 2006.
Photo by Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith/Rockdale Citizen Staff Photographer

Staff Writer
Hawaii Tribune-Herald

COVINGTON — Jurors heard Tuesday a recording of the anguished voice of 52-year-old Denise Michelle Francis as she made a desperate call to 911, moments before she died from multiple gunshots, during the first day of testimony in the murder trial of her husband, Thomas Marlin Francis, 61. 

Denise Francis, known as Shelley, identified herself and gave her address to the dispatcher, saying that she had been shot and saying, “Please help me.” Then she said, “He’s kicking me.” Shortly thereafter, the line went silent. 

Jurors also heard a recording made a few minutes later of her husband as he spoke calmly with a 911 operator, saying, “My wife and I got in a fight. I shot her, in the head, I think … The gun is on the sofa, the clip is right beside it.” 

The Social Circle resident was taken into custody outside his home at 15 Rutherford Drive in the Surrey Chase subdivision around 9 a.m. on Oct. 31, 2006. The body of his wife was found inside with gunshot wounds to the back of her head, through her mouth, and in her left breast. 

In her opening statements, Newton County Assistant District Attorney Melanie McCrorey described the case simply: “cold, calculated murder.” 

Defense attorney David LaMalva said the question was not whether his client shot his wife, but rather why. Thomas Francis had endured financial difficulties and public humiliation by his wife in front of neighbors and church members, the attorney told the jurors. She had also previously attacked him with a hammer, and had come at him with a knife the morning of the shooting, forcing him to defend himself, he added. “Tommy was justified in shooting Shelley,” LaMalva said. 

The defendant’s brother- in-law, Greg Moore, testified that he had spoken with Thomas Francis on several occasions, during which he had complained about having arguments with his wife. Moore acknowledged that he had witnessed several of those arguments between his wife’s sister and Thomas Francis. Moore added that he had taken out a warrant against Denise Francis after she made harassing phone calls to his home. 

Two weeks after Thomas Francis’ arrest, Moore said he visited him in jail, during which they discussed the shooting. 

“I said to him, ‘It must have got bad,’” Moore said. “He said, ‘We got into it that night. The next morning, I went into the bathroom and asked her what she was going to be like today. Was I going to see Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde.’ Then she jumped up at him and he started shooting.” 

McCrorey called several police officers and first responders to the stand to describe the scene when they arrived at the Francis home that October morning. Among them were agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, who took over the investigation once it was ascertained that Francis was a former law enforcement officer. 

Responders described Denise Francis’ body as lying in the doorway between the home’s master bedroom and the master bathroom. Photographs were submitted into evidence showing multiple teeth on the floor and several blood spatters on the floor, door, the bathroom counter, and on the phone that was said to be used to make the 911 call. Investigators determined that the cord had been ripped from the phone. 

Found lying on the ground near the body was a large kitchen knife. Both McCrorey and LaMalva focused heavily on the location of the knife and asked each of the witnesses whether they had moved it or were aware of anyone else having tampered with it in any way. They each replied that it had not been moved. 

GBI Special Agent Todd Crosby testified on his investigation of the blood spatter evidence found at the scene and explained the conclusions he had reached as McCrorey presented photographs to jurors. Members of Denise Francis’ family were visibly distraught as pictures revealing her body lying on the floor were shown to the jury. Taking a short break, McCrorey whispered to several family members and they exited the courtroom before several more graphic photos were displayed. 

Crosby asserted that the blood drops found under the knife on the floor revealed that the knife had been placed there after the wound or wounds were inflicted on Denise Francis. 

In his cross-examination, LaMalva asked Crosby if it were possible that an investigator or Thomas Francis had kicked the knife into the location which was found after Denise Francis was killed. 

“To my knowledge, it was not inadvertently kicked,” he replied. Upon further questioning, Crosby revealed that a battery of fingerprint tests found no fingerprints on the knife, the gun, the gun’s magazine or on the bullets contained within. 

When asked about abrasions found on Denise Francis’ buttocks, Crosby said, “My opinion is she was kicked.” 

GBI medical examiner Eric Eason went into detail concerning each of Denise Francis’ three gunshot wounds. He told jurors that Denise Francis may have been able to place the 911 call following the shots to the chest and her mouth, but said the shot to the back of her head would more than likely have instantly killed her. 

“The mouth shot would have been painful, but not incapacitating,” he said. The shot in her chest, however, did more damage, traveling through her ribcage, diaphragm, liver and right kidney. “She would not lose consciousness, but it would not be instantly lethal.” 

“The back of the head would have had to be after (the 911 call),” he concluded. 

The presentation of evidence is scheduled to continue at 8:30 a.m. today, during which jurors will watch a videotaped interrogation of Thomas Francis. 

Staff photographer Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith contributed to this story. 

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