Leslie MacKool testified Thursday that her abusive husband dictated almost everything she did, including killing her mother.
She said Mike MacKool called her fat and ugly, forced her to wear short skirts and tight tops, told her how often to go to the gym and would hit her if she disobeyed. And when he told her to kill her mother in the hope of reaping a windfall inheritance, MacKool said, she was afraid to say no.
Had she refused, MacKool said, she believes her husband would have killed her mother and then her.
"I never wanted to do it," she said. "I didn't want to hurt her."
Leslie MacKool, 27, and Mike MacKool, 50, are charged with capital murder in the 2003 death of Janie Ballard. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against the husband, but not against the wife.
Mike MacKool is scheduled to go on trial June 14. Leslie MacKool has pleaded innocent by reason of mental disease or defect.
She said that, once her husband learned her father had cut her almost entirely out of his will, Mike MacKool became convinced she would inherit up to $2 million as long as Ballard died within 30 days. MacKool said her husband pestered her about killing her mother, throwing her against a wall when she initially refused to go along with the plan, and described how they argued over whether to use a shotgun or a knife.
In a soft voice, she described how, dressed all in black, she ambushed her mother while Mike MacKool, armed with a gun, waited in a car nearby. She said she only remembers stabbing Ballard a few times; her mother's body bore 70 stab wounds.
Afterward, MacKool said, she took some jewelry and a coin collection and left in her mother's car to join her husband. She said they burned the murder costume _ or at least she thought so, until her husband told her he'd hidden part of it as evidence against her should they fall under suspicion.
"That night, Mike told me I'd done a bad job," she said.
MacKool repeatedly said she was an unwilling participant.
"I didn't want to do it," she said.
On cross-examination, deputy prosecutor John Johnson sought to portray MacKool as a woman spoiled by a privileged childhood and angered that she didn't get the inheritance she had hoped. Johnson questioned her about previous questionable dealings with family and others and implied she had never taken responsibility for her actions.
"This is a continuation of the blame game that you've been playing all your life, isn't it?" he asked.
"I confessed. I did it," MacKool retorted.
She testified that her mother was her closest friend until she met Mike MacKool, whose tough demeanor, snazzy sports car and appearance of wealth caught her eye. But at least once a week, she said, he would get angry, call her names, punch and kick her and pull her hair. She said he even shot her with a pellet gun once.
But MacKool said she didn't try to leave her husband, who she believes killed another man in his youth.
"He made it clear that, if I ever left him, he'd find me and he'd kill me," she said.
She said she didn't attend her father's funeral because she was on a business trip with her husband and he wouldn't let her return home. She also said he made her sue her parents when he discovered her condominium was in her mother's name, and later forced her to settle for $50,000.
That lawsuit opened a rift between her and her parents, MacKool said, and led to an almost total estrangement between her and her mother. MacKool said she had not been to her parents' home in a year before visiting to check on provisions of her father's will after his Aug. 19, 2003, death.
She found that she'd been left 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.
Leslie MacKool said that, when she finally agreed to participate in the murder, which occurred Sept. 13, 2003, she hoped to inherit enough money to allow her to leave her husband. Her attorney asked whether her confession, in her second interview with investigators, was another way of reaching the same goal.
"Yeah, in a sense," she said.
Johnson questioned whether her estrangement from her mother was the fault of both parties, implying that Ballard never ceased caring about her daughter. He had MacKool study photographs of the living room where she killed her mother and identify the numerous portraits on the walls.
MacKool identified them as photos of herself.