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updated 5/26/2004 3:22:47 PM ET 2004-05-26T19:22:47

The lawyer for Leslie MacKool, on trial for killing her mother, told jurors that her husband's controlling nature led her to the crime.

MacKool, 27, was afraid her husband would kill her if she botched the murder, attorney Bill James told jurors during opening statements on Tuesday.

MacKool and her husband, Mike MacKool, 50, are charged with capital murder in the 2003 death of Janie Ballard. Leslie MacKool has pleaded innocent by reason of mental disease or defect. Her trial is expected to end Thursday. Mike MacKool is to go on trial June 14.

Tuesday, Deputy Prosecutor W.A. McCormick told jurors the couple thought they would receive up to a $2 million inheritance if Ballard died within 30 days of Leslie MacKool's father.

Leslie MacKool was given only $25,000 of her father's $1.5 million to $2 million estate in the revised will he made after she became involved with Mike MacKool.

Ballard, 58, was found dead at her Little Rock home Sept. 13. Later that day, police questioned the MacKools, and Leslie MacKool confessed to stabbing her mother.

Leslie MacKool wept softly in court after hearing both sides describe her life and the murder to jurors.

McCormick said the crime was premeditative. He said Leslie MacKool waited in bushes outside Ballard's home dressed in dark clothing, including black face paint and a wig. She knocked her mother down, stabbed her more than 70 times, cut the phone line, then went upstairs to steal jewelry and a valuable coin set belonging to her father.

"She goes down to her mother, and for good measure, turns her over and slashes her throat," McCormick said.

McCormick said Leslie MacKool had a privileged life financed by her parents, and neither she nor her husband were employed at the time of the killing.

James said Leslie MacKool committed the crime after agonizing days of hearing her husband repeatedly say that she would kill her mother.

"He said, 'You better not mess this up. You better do this right. If you don't, I'll kill you,'" the lawyer told jurors.

James described the power that Mike MacKool had over his wife.

Leslie MacKool dealt with her parents' marriage problems and alcoholism as a child, he said. She wasn't close to anyone besides her parents, until she met Mike MacKool.

Their relationship caused a rift between Leslie MacKool and her parents. Mike MacKool tricked her into charging most of a ski vacation to the account of their family business, Shepherd's Printing Inc., and later made her quit the work she loved, James said. He also conned her into selling her car to buy a Corvette, which he put in his father's name, James said.

James said Leslie MacKool knew her husband would disapprove if she left his side while they were on a business trip so she could attend her the funeral of her father, Les Ballard, in August. When she finally returned home, she was angry to find her mother was cheerful and had gotten rid of her father's things, James said.

McCormick said the plot was formed after the MacKools read Les Ballard's will, thinking it said Leslie MacKool would inherit her father's estate if Janie Ballard died within 30 days of Les Ballard's death Aug. 19.

"It's not what's reality (that matters). It's what the defendant thinks and what her husband thinks," McCormick said.

James said Mike MacKool made his wife buy the dark clothes and oversized shoes. She drove her mother's red Cadillac to a church parking lot, still dressed in the bloodied costume. After the murder, Mike MacKool hid some of her clothes to ensure she wouldn't talk, James said.

The couple drove to Hot Springs that afternoon and later returned to Little Rock, where they met police investigating the death.

James said Leslie MacKool confessed to the police the second time she was interviewed, then pointed out evidence to investigators.

"She had broken free," James said. "She was going to be rid of (Mike MacKool) one way or another."

McCormick said jurors should keep in mind the facts of the murder.

"Some of the chapters may develop who a character is, but there are some chapters that tell what happened, how it happened and why it happened," McCormick said, urging jurors to concentrate on the later.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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