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POSTED: 5:04 p.m. EDT, September 22, 2006
By Emanuella Grinberg, Court TV
(Court TV) –Almost 16 hours after Martha Freeman’s husband was strangled and beaten to death in the couple’s upscale south Nashville home, she finally reported his death to police.
If her decision to wait was puzzling, so was the explanation she gave police.
Freeman claimed her lover, an illegal Mexican immigrant who was living in her closet, killed her husband. She said Jeffrey Freeman had discovered him.
But prosecutors dispute Martha Freeman’s version of the events that led to her husband’s April 2005 slaying. They are expected to outline their theory during opening statements in the 41-year-old widow’s upcoming murder trial.
Freeman and 36-year-old Rahael Rocha-Perez, her former lover, each are charged with first-degree murder in the husband’s violent bludgeoning. If convicted, they face life in prison.
When police responded to the 911 call that Freeman asked a neighbor to make, they found the body of Jeffrey Freeman, 44, lying face-down in the master bathroom.
His head, which had sustained multiple blunt-force trauma injuries, was wrapped in a black plastic garbage bag and the rest of his body in a sleeping bag. A medical examiner’s preliminary examination also detected possible ligature marks around his neck.
The rest of the home appeared to be undisturbed, police said. One notable exception: Several black garbage bags were found containing wet bath mats, towels, a pillow case with apparent bloodstains and wads of torn telephone cord.
Closet hideaway found
Metro Nashville Police Department detectives also found the closet that Martha Freeman claimed her lover lived in for about a month before her husband’s death.
The 2-by-8-foot storage space contained a foam pad, pillows, blankets, three loaves of bread, a Nintendo GameBoy, a radio, and several adult magazines.
Investigators also found an “overnight bag,” which contained lingerie and pictures of Martha Freeman in various stages of undress.
Martha Freeman was seemingly forthcoming with authorities about her relationship with Perez, whom she referred to as “Christian,” and his alleged role in her husband’s death sometime after 9 p.m. that evening.
Initially, only Perez was charged with Jeffrey Freeman’s murder.
Martha Freeman was a witness at his preliminary hearing, providing detailed information about their relationship and the night her husband was killed.
Freeman said she met Perez at a July 4 celebration in 2004 during a rocky period in her marriage. The two went to a hotel in downtown Nashville with two of his friends, and she admitted to having “intimate” relations with the three men.
From there, the lovers conducted an on-and-off relationship with the aid of an English-Spanish translator. Perez moved into a closet in the Freeman home in March 2005.
Husband discovers couple
On the night of April 10, 2005, Freeman testified, both she and Perez were asleep in the room she maintained separately from her husband. Jeffrey Freeman discovered Perez and told him to leave.
According to Martha Freeman, her husband of 10 years then went to walk the dogs. When he returned, Perez grabbed him by the shirt collar and forced him into the bathroom at gunpoint while Martha Freeman waited outside.
“I heard water running, I heard a lot of thumping, a lot of noise,” she testified at the hearing in 2005. “I was absolutely terrified of what was going on and also, if he could have done this to my husband, I’m not sure what he was going to do to me.”
When asked why she didn’t immediately call police, Freeman admitted she didn’t “have an answer,” and attributed it to the medication she was taking for bipolar disorder.
During the 16 hours before the 911 call, Freeman said she went to Walgreens to pick up a prescription for antidepressants and walked her dog twice.
She said she also called her in-laws and told them their son would not be able to talk to them, as was his common practice, because he was not feeling well.
Finally, around 4 p.m. the next day, she went to a neighbor’s home and told her what had happened. The neighbor called police.
Judge disbelieves her testimony
Freeman’s testimony in the preliminary hearing came to an abrupt halt, however, when the judge said he didn’t believe her.
“I’ve got a problem with allowing this to go any further without allowing her some representation because I can see her being charged in this case,” Judge Casey Moreland told lawyers. “This is so bizarre, it is hard to believe.”
Four months later, in August 2005, a grand jury indicted her on one count of first-degree murder. She has been out on $75,000 bail since August 2005. Her former lover remains in custody.
Since her indictment, prosecutors have been tight-lipped about their theory about the crime. But in 2006, an investigator told the The Tennessean, Nashville’s daily newspaper, that he believed much of the crime scene had been staged, including the supposed scenario of the closet lover.
Attorneys for the defendants did not return calls, but in 2006, a lawyer for Perez insisted he was innocent and suggested that Martha Freeman’s involvement in the slaying was greater than she let on.
“He has always maintained his innocence, and no disrespect to Mrs. Freeman, but her credibility, her reliability, her mental stability will seriously be in question at a trial of this case,” attorney Peter Strianse told the Tennessean.
Perez did not make any statements to police following his arrest.
Jury selection begins Monday afternoon in Davidson County Circuit Court.
Excerpt from STATE OF TENNESSEE v. MARTHA ANN FREEMAN AND RAFAEL DEJESUS ROCHA-PEREZ
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Lori Estridge, the Pharmacy Manager at Walgreens on Edmondson Pike in Nashville, testified that she was in charge of records at that particular Walgreens. Estridge testified that, based on records, Freeman purchased a prescription on April 10, 2005, at 10:01 p.m. On cross-examination by Freeman’s attorney, Estridge testified that the prescription was for hydrocodone. Estridge described the medications that Freeman purchased at Walgreens beginning in January, 2005, until April 10, 2005: Allegra, an antihistamine; Alprazolam, used to treat anxiety, and side effects include drowsiness particularly when taken with anti-depressants or pain killers; Lexapro, used to treat depression; Lipitor, used to treat cholesterol; Ambien, a sleep inducer; Adacan, used to lower blood pressure; Gabapentin, used to treat seizures; Hydrocodone, a pain killer with a side effect of drowsiness; birth control patches; Temazepam, used as insomnia therapy; Effexor, an antidepressant; and Nitrolpurantin, an antibiotic.