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Shooting disputed in Stanley murder trial

Photo by Elaine Rackley: Jerry Finley was called as an expert witness in the Stanley murder trial. Finley is the president of Finley Consulting, and has worked in forensic science since 1971. He has trained Georgia law enforcement officers in death-investigation reconstruction for 15 years.

Photo by Elaine Rackley: Jerry Finley was called as an expert witness in the Stanley murder trial. Finley is the president of Finley Consulting, and has worked in forensic science since 1971. He has trained Georgia law enforcement officers in death-investigation reconstruction for 15 years.

Jurors in the Wanda Stanley murder trial have heard testimony from an expert witness offered by the prosecution, challenging Stanley’s claim that the former nurse shot and killed her allegedly abusive husband, John, while sitting in a back seat of their Nissan Armada SUV.

Two of the Stanley’s four children, a daughter, and a son, have testified that they witnessed verbal and physical abuse by their father against their mother. Following their testimony in a hearing last week, Henry County Superior Court Judge Brian Amero allowed the Battered Woman Syndrome to be used in defending Stanley in the killing.

In one of her accounts to police, Wanda Stanley said her husband, while using drugs, cursed her and sought to force himself on her, sexually, in their car the day he was killed.

“He pulled out the gun and sits the gun down on the seat,” she said in a taped interview with police. “When he went into his pocket to get the [cocaine], I grabbed the gun with both hands and shot him. I put the gun down and John falls over into the seat,” she said.

Monday, a court-certified expert, Jerry Finley, who is president of Finley Consultants, and once worked at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, where he instructed officers in forensic science and death investigations, told jurors he came to a different conclusion about the shooting in the 2008 case.

Based on the trajectory of the bullet, the person who shot the 45-year-old John Stanley had to be standing outside of the couple’s car, Finley testified

He also testified that, based on the blood stains, John Stanley’s body had been moved after his death, to make it appear he was killed inside the SUV.

Assistant District Attorney Sandi Rivers questioned Finley about his findings. “Is it your opinion that the shooter was on the outside, or at the edge of the door?” she asked.

“My opinion was that the shooter was at the side door,” Finley responded.

Rivers showed the jurors a picture of Stanley’s body in the SUV, behind the driver’s seat. Finley pointed out that Stanley’s body was on the floorboard of the vehicle, “but, no blood was found on the back of the driver’s seat. Look’s like to me the body was placed there,” said Finley.

Wanda Stanley is accused of malice murder and felony murder in connection with the death of her husband. His body was found in his vehicle, in College Park, on Dec. 26, 2008.

In opening remarks, Senior Assistant District Attorney Jim Wright told jurors the murder investigation started in College Park, where police found the victim, his car, wallet, and driver’s license. “They also found shell casings on the floor,” said Wright.

“I expect the evidence will show the cause of death as homicide, with a gunshot to the back of the head,” he continued. The prosecutor told the court that, when College Park Police and Henry County Police started working on the case together, they were under the impression the murder happened in College Park. He added that Wanda Stanley’s story continued to change prior to her later confession.

“On Jan. 7, 2009, she told police she left the house with her husband, and that he forced her in the car at gunpoint ...Then, she changed her story again,” said Wright. He said Stanley called police and said, “she got some suspects in mind who might be involved in the murder of her husband.

“At the conclusion of this trial,” added Wright. “I am going to ask you, based on the evidence of this case, that you should find this defendant guilty as charged on this bill of indictment.”

Henry County Public Defender Gary Bowman leads Wanda Stanley’s defense team. His assistants are public defenders Jennifer Lewis and Gerald Privin.

In his opening statement, Bowman encouraged the jurors to take notes because he said in the end, remember, “what Mr. Wright told you, doesn’t prove anything. It is true that Wanda Stanley shot John Stanley,” he said. “It is true that Wanda Stanley told different stories. It is true that she had some bizarre behavior, but was Wanda Stanley justified in shooting John Stanley?

“I believe Wanda Stanley was justified, because she was about to be raped,” he said. “She was justified because she thought she was going to be killed. She was justified because she was a victim of Battered Women Syndrome.”

Bowman told the jury there were cycles of abuse that began in Brooklyn, N.Y. He said police were called to the Stanley’s home beginning in 1994, five years after they were married in 1989. The physical and verbal abuse continued after the couple moved to their Locust Grove home, he said.

“You always end up with hope, and hope is what sustains the women in these cycles,” Bowman said. He said there were times of calmness, and promises of things getting better, in the relationship between the cycles of denial, acceptance, enlightenment and violence.

“[Battered] women believe the future will be better, particularly when you have children,” he added.