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The News Courier
September 20, 2011
By Jean Colejean@athensnews-courier.com
Pam Terry said her estranged husband, Steven Charles Slaughter, was sitting on the floor of her living room, writing her a check for wedding expenses.
He said something that enraged her so much, she went numb, got a handgun on her way to the restroom, then returned and shot him in the back of the head.
Terry and Slaughter had worked together at Huntsville military contractor SAIC and had dated for more than a year before they married. She believed he was planning to end the marriage of only 53 days when the shooting occurred.
Terry, 50, of Ardmore, who uses the name Terry rather than Slaughter, was sentenced Monday to serve 30 years for the murder. She was given credit for time served and ordered to pay a $500 fine and other costs. She had pleaded guilty July 6 to fatally shooting Slaughter at her home at 29460 Thunderpaw Drive on Aug. 23, 2009. Her plea eliminated the need for a trial.
The sentence is unsatisfactory to Slaughter’s mother, Irma Heimderger of Madison.
“She deserved more than 30 years,” Heimderger said after the hearing.
She added that the two-year delay in prosecuting the case made life even more difficult for the family.
“It was agony to put our life on hold for two years,” she said.
Ben Baxley, the assistant attorney general appointed to prosecute the case after District Attorney Brian Jones recused, said Terry was still angry at the victim (for not telling her about his drinking problem and for wanting to divorce) and he summed up her motive for the shooting as, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.”
He said Terry did not just destroy Slaughter’s life, she destroyed the lives “of at least four people because of jealousy because he was leaving. It was an execution. She ambushed and killed him.”
Attorney General Luther Strange was satisfied with the verdict.
“It is appropriate that this defendant has been sentenced to serve 30 years in prison,” Strange said Monday. “The callous and purposeful taking of another person’s life is a terrible and tragic crime that demands a severe penalty.”
After family members from both sides testified about the murder affected them, Terry testified after her attorney requested a lesser sentence.
Terry said she and Slaughter had not lived together except for a few days before they were married. Once they moved into her home, she said she realized he had a drinking problem. He agreed to seek help and spent two weeks at Bradford. When he was released, she said he did not move back in with her. However, Heimderger said in her victim’s impact statement that Terry would not allow her son to move back in.
The couple still communicated by telephone and email and, on occasion, in person. On the day of the shooting, Terry said she called Slaughter who had planned to come over to address financial issues.
She said she and Slaughter were in the living room; he was sitting on the floor between the coffee table and the couch, writing her a check for wedding expenses, though he had not filled out the amount. She believed, based on their conversation, he was moving in another direction in life.
For one thing, she said, he was not wearing his wedding band and when she asked him about it, he said he took it off to wash his vehicle and left it inside.
Terry testified that Slaughter said, “You and I have lived alone for several years.’”
She testified, “I said, ‘So, you think it was a mistake?’ (meaning getting married) and he didn’t answer.”
Terry said at that point she felt fearful and needed to urinate, so she excused herself and headed to the restroom. She said she felt as if “someone had poured a bucket of water over her head and washed everything out of her.”
One the way to the restroom, she got a handgun from the master bedroom, returned to the living room and, in a daze, shot Slaughter twice including once in the back of the head. She returned to her bedroom, considered shooting herself but thought of her children and, instead, called her sister to tell her what happened. Her sister dialed 911.
She said she did not answer questions from Limestone County Sheriff’s investigators immediately after the shooting because she was too overwhelmed to speak not because she was declining to comment as had been reported.
On Monday, she apologized to Slaughter’s family and to her own family for the pain she had caused them, saying the person who shot Slaughter that day was not the person she is.
Before issuing the sentence, Limestone County Circuit Judge Bob Baker allowed nearly two hours of statements from family members of the victim and the accused.
Heimderger, whose late husband had encouraged her before he passed away to move close to her son so he could care for her, will now have to sell her home and move to Chicago away from her friends and the life she has come to know in order to be near her daughter.
She said she no longer finds comfort in religion and has left the church.
“Half of me is gone and the whole person I once was is permanently lost,” she said.
She is undergoing therapy and taking medication to cope.
“The image of my son carried out of her house in a body bag and the coroner calling me to ask if I would donate his eyes are not the final lasting impression I wanted of my son,” she said.
On the last day of Slaughter’s life, Heimderger said he asked her, “Mom, how did I get into such a mess?”
She told The News Courier her son either planned to ask Terry on Aug. 23 or had already asked her at dinner the day before to file for divorce because they could not work things out.
Stephanie Slaughter was 13 when her father was murdered.
“My whole world fell apart,” she said tearfully. “I have lived my life with someone missing ever since. I lost my father, my best friend and, most of all, a huge part of the person standing before you today.”
In the two years after the shooting, she said she made bad choices.
“I had four suicide attempts and scars that a 15-year-old girl should never have,” Stephanie Slaughter said.
She has had to seek treatment for drug and alcohol use.
Erin Slaughter, who was 16 at the time of the murder, said she had to step in and hold the family together after her father’s death. She said she spent the first week of her senior year in high school attending her father’s funeral in Alabama and dealing with the details of his death. She said she lost the last remnant of childhood trying to cope and to help others cope. She also grieves the loss of what could have been.
“He will never have the chance to meet my future husband … on my wedding day, he won’t be there to walk me down the aisle,” she said.
One remark she made was especially moving.
“When I see a man who looks like him, I stare and follow him around to try and get a glimpse of my dad,” she said.
Terry’s sister, Carolyn Barnes, cried as she apologized to the victim’s family for their loss. She tried to offer glimpses of the person she knew her sister to be.
She recalled the time that Terry had driven to Fort Jackson with a truckload of Sundrop cola for Barnes’ son because the beverage was not sold there.
She said she knew there must be judgment “here or in the hereafter,” but asked the court for understanding.
“I do beg for your mercy and your forgiveness,” she said. “I beg the court for justice and mercy.”
Before announcing the sentence, Baker said, “This case is a tragedy on a number of different levels,” Baker said. “The families on both sides were left with more questions than answers.”
Psychological evaluations by the defense and prosecution did not find her to be legally insane, he said.
“Both of you are employed, well-educated, not typically what we see in these cases,” Baker said. “I don’t know what happened. I’ve heard what you said.”
Terry testified at the hearing that she had been taking Prozac and that she was feeling rage due to stress from caring for her mother, who suffers from dementia, because she was working on a special project at work and because she was planning a wedding.
She said she had gone to her doctor to possibly increase her dosage and the doctor referred her to a psychiatrist. Terry said she had made an appointment but it was a month away. “I didn’t know it was an emergency,” Terry said tearfully.
Baker said before sentencing Terry, “There is no credible evidence of abuse to warrant self-defense. Nothing warranted the action you took.”
He told Terry that while the prisons are “overflowing with mean and dangerous people … you are not a danger to society,” though he used the words “terrible” and “heinous” to describe her crime.
“You are a good, productive member of society” who took the life of another good, productive member of society, Baker said. He said the court has to measure (the fact that Terry) had no criminal records, except for speeding.
With that, he rendered the sentence, ordered Terry to being incarcerated immediately and closed the hearing. She will serve her sentence at Tutwiler Prison for Women in Wetumpka.