Slain husband's family finds some comfort in verdict


For five long days, as Kelly Clutter faced a jury in a packed Anne Arundel County courtroom, her dead husband's family listened to two versions of a marriage gone horribly wrong.

In one version, Clutter told of brutal abuse at the hands of her much larger husband, David Clutter Sr., 32. She told the jury that, during the 11 years they were married, David "constantly" beat and raped her, even withheld food from her. One witness said her husband came to her workplace with a baseball bat; another testified she saw him grab Clutter by the arm and shove her into his car.

He was so controlling that, on Christmas Day 2000, she was planning to commit suicide with a .357 revolver she'd purchased a few months before to escape him forever. But her husband came to her house as she was contemplating whether to shoot herself in the head or in the mouth. She panicked and shot him instead - twice.

In the other version, Assistant State's Attorney Pamela Alban told of a woman prone to histrionics and exaggeration, who only complained of abuse when she sought an order of protection from her husband - a loving and devoted father - during a contentious custody dispute, and rarely had a bruise anyone could see. In that version, Clutter planned to kill her husband because he was to win sole custody of their son, David Jr., at a hearing scheduled for the next day. Clutter called her husband, lured him to her house and shot him with the gun she had loaded the night before.

The jury, it seemed, didn't completely buy either version. About 10 p.m. Friday, they convicted Clutter, 35, of Pasadena, of voluntary manslaughter. She will be sentenced May 29 and could face up to 30 years in prison.

"I wanted more, but I'm glad she's going to prison," said Linda Somers, David Clutter Sr.'s aunt.

David Jr., 9, lives with his paternal grandmother, Barbara Orndorff, though Kelly Clutter's mother is fighting for custody and visitation rights.

"He's the loser. There's no question about it," said Kelly Clutter's attorney, Harold Dwin.

Throughout the trial, Orndorff, a cafeteria worker, carried a framed photo in her purse of her grandson. She said it was to remind her of what the trial is about.

"I want something for him," she repeated as they waited for the verdict into the night.

For the Clutter family, the trial was agony. It was bad enough to hear the medical examiner describe how the bullet severed David Clutter's brain stem, how he fell instantly when his wife fired the second shot. Even worse, they said, was the long list of sexual and physical violence she contended she endured.

That didn't fit with the loving lug they called "Dietzie," who told corny jokes and devoured Chinese food with spicy mustard. He was so sensitive he cried when someone hurt his feelings. And, far from being obsessed with his soon-to-be-ex-wife, he was casually dating a woman who was also a single parent and was moving on with his life.

"If you could have seen my face, you would have known," family friend Trina Heard said when asked what she was thinking during Kelly Clutter's testimony.

Lisa Casey, a neighbor of the Clutters, often watched David Jr. after school. "It was always, 'my daddy, my daddy, my daddy,'" she said.

Casey, whose husband is a state trooper, felt so comfortable around David Clutter that she arranged a date for him with another neighbor, Eileen Ziegler, after his separation.

Ziegler said they became friendly and their kids sometimes played together, but that's as far as the relationship went.

"I liked him," said Ziegler. "I just would not in a million years believe he was abusive to her."

But Dwin said the jury believed that Kelly Clutter was a battered spouse. If they hadn't, he said, "she would have been found guilty of first-degree murder."

The Clutter family plans to take the next few days the way they took the last - focusing on David Jr.'s baseball practice and birthday parties, taking turns carting him to ice skating shows and the movies, and playing with him and his new puppy, Holly.

The boy knows his mother killed his father and he knows she is going to prison, Somers said, but he is not focusing on what is happening to her.

She said he talks constantly about his father.

"He's gone, and a little boy lives without a father," she said. "He'll never get to say, 'Good night, Daddy. I love you,' and hear it echoed back. And that breaks my heart."

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