Deputy’s estranged wife testifies at hearing — (Jackson Sun)

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Jackson Sun

By TONYA SMITH-KING, tsmith-king@jacksonsun.com

06/26 2004

DRESDEN – A deputy’s estranged wife was visibly shaking Friday as she recounted the night she says she watched him shoot to death a male friend of hers at her Greenfield apartment.

A tearful Rene Leyhue Carpenter, 25, said she didn’t remember how many times Claudell Carpenter shot Joe Martin, 35.

The Sharon man died June 16 of multiple gunshot wounds to his upper body and face. Neighbors have reported hearing as many as 13 shots.

”I tried to do CPR on him, but I couldn’t,” Rene Carpenter said of Martin. ”He’d shot him in the face.”

Rene Carpenter testified at her husband’s preliminary hearing Friday in Weakley County General Sessions Court on a first-degree murder charge. Judge Thomas Moore bound the case over the grand jury, which meets Sept. 6.

Claudell Carpenter’s attorney, Bruce Conley of Union City, asked for copies of all statements he made to police, for a mental evaluation of his client and that a bail hearing be postponed.

Moore granted his requests and ordered that Claudell Carpenter, 28, continue to be held without bond.

Carpenter is being detained at the Obion County Jail, District Attorney General Tommy Thomas said Friday. Weakley County Sheriff Mike Wilson has said it would be too awkward to have the former Weakley County deputy in his jail.

Thomas was uncertain whether he’d seek the death penalty.

About 20 of Martin’s loved ones attended the hearing, many wearing T-shirts bearing his picture. Martin’s wife, Karen Martin, and their three sons comforted one another during Rene Carpenter’s testimony.

”It was definitely hard to sit through it and listen,” Karen Martin said. ”I know the further we go through this trial, it’s going to get worse. At this point, all we can do is ask God to give us strength to get us through this.”

Security was tight, with authorities taking the victim and suspect’s loved ones into a bathroom near the courtroom entrance to search them.

”Better to be safe than sorry,” Thomas said.

Claudell Carpenter sat picking at and biting his nails during portions of his estranged wife’s testimony. His face appeared emotionless, though his family described him after the hearing as a loving, caring man.

”This is not him,” said his mother, Theresa Allen.

She remembered how he’d once called her in tears because he had to shoot a dog as part of his job as a deputy.

Then there was the time he pulled over to remove a turtle from the middle of a road so it wouldn’t be killed, Allen said.

”He must have saw something he didn’t want to see and snapped,” said his stepfather, Terral Cowan. ”It just don’t add up.”

Claudell Carpenter had been on the antidepressant Paxil for anxiety, Rene Carpenter testified Friday. He’d threatened before to kill her and Joe Martin if he ever caught them together, she said.

Rene Carpenter said Joe Martin was just a friend. She’d known him since she was 4 or 5 years old, when he baby-sat her and her brother, she added. She didn’t believe Martin was living with his wife at the time of his death.

Shortly before the shooting incident, Rene and Claudell Carpenter’s two daughters were asleep in their mother’s bedroom. Rene Carpenter and Joe Martin were in her daughters’ bedroom with the lights off and the TV on, Rene Carpenter said.

They were each on one of the two twin beds in the room with Joe Martin lying with his head propped in his hands, she said.

Valerie Trout, an agent with the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, said Rene Carpenter told her that Joe Martin left the living room and went into the girls’ bedroom when they heard a knock on the door.

He did that because there had been rumors they were having an affair, and he didn’t want anyone to see him there, Trout said.

Rene Carpenter said it was Dresden Police Officer Kevin Klutts at the door, looking for a possible prowler who had been reported at the Oakwood Apartments.

She joined Joe Martin in the girls’ bedroom when Klutts left, she testified. They stayed in there talking with the lights off and the TV on.

Shortly after that, they were both startled by something hitting the door, Rene Carpenter said. The second time they heard the sound, the front door flew open.

Claudell Carpenter entered the bedroom and started shooting, she said. Joe Martin fell back on the bed and covered his face when he saw Claudell Carpenter enter the room, she added.

”I was trying to stop Claudell,” Rene Carpenter said. ”I was pulling on him and pushing on him. He pushed me off of him.”

Rene Carpenter followed her husband as he left the room and walked down the hallway and asked him why he’d shot Joe Martin.

”He said, ‘I don’t know. I think I just f—– up,’ ” she added. ”That’s all he said.”

He didn’t appear to be himself, she said.

”I know he wasn’t in his right mind,” Rene Carpenter said. ”The look on his face was not Claudell.”

– Tonya Smith-King, (731) 824-3640