STATE of Washington, Respondent,
Ivy Gail KELLY, Appellant

Court of Appeals of Washington
33 Wash. App. 541 (1982)


 The defendant, Ivy Gail Kelly, was found guilty by jury verdict of murder in the second degree and sentenced to a maximum term of 20 years in prison.  She appeals from the judgment.  We affirm.

 On August 30, 1980, at their home in Snohomish County, Kelly killed her husband with one gunshot.  Her defense was that when her husband, who had been drinking and was angry with her, blocked her only exit from the house, she believed he intended to kill her and pointed a pistol at him intending to scare him.  The gun discharged.

 In support of this defense, Kelly testified in detail of extensive previous physical abuse at the hands of her husband and of his repeated threats to kill her immediately before she fired the shot.  She also called a recognized expert in the field of battered women who testified that the [p. 543] decedent fit the classic behavioral model of a batterer and that Kelly was a victim of the "battered woman syndrome."

 The evidence in support of the "battered woman syndrome" was that the decedent had verbally and physically abused Kelly to the point that, because of her love for him and wish that the marriage would last, she developed a state of "learned helplessness."  Then when the decedent, with glassy eyes and slurred speech, typical of previous assaults, said he was going to kill her and blocked her only exit, she feared for her life, picked up the gun and shot him.  The expert witness testified that the "battered woman syndrome" arises from a situation in which a man physically and psychologically abuses a wife or loved one, gains her forgiveness, seeks her love and reconciliation and then repeats the cycle over and over so many times that the woman, at all times hoping the relationship will last, is reduced to a state of learned helplessness.

 The first question concerns the State's rebuttal evidence that about a month before the shooting, Kelly had accused a neighbor engaged in cleaning an easement between their properties of trespass and had threatened him with great bodily harm and on another occasion had pounded on the house and the decedent's car with a shovel when he had locked her out.  Kelly argues that the evidence was improperly admitted because it went to her character and her character was not in issue.  She also argues, relying upon State v. Oswalt, 62 Wash.2d 118, 381 P.2d 617 (1963) and State v. Putzell, 40 Wash.2d 174, 242 P.2d 180 (1952), that the State could not properly introduce specific act evidence to be brought on nonessential or collateral issues.

 The State's rebuttal evidence bears upon Kelly's contention that she was a "battered woman."  Neither at trial nor in her brief has Kelly specifically connected the "battered woman syndrome" with justification for the killing of her husband.  The phenomenon undoubtedly exists with many tragic consequences. Whether one of the consequences is the slaying of the husband depends upon the facts and circumstances of the case.  The existence of the [p. 544] syndrome in a marriage does not of itself establish the legal right of the wife to kill the husband, the evidence must still be considered in the context of self defense. The shooting of the husband must be justified.  Based upon her subjective impressions of the potential for danger, the woman must reasonably believe that the person slain intends to inflict death or great bodily harm and there is imminent danger of such harm being accomplished.

 Whether Kelly was suffering from a state of learned helplessness resulting from the "battered woman syndrome" and whether that condition with all of the other circumstances justified her shooting her husband were questions for the jury to resolve.  The evidence of the "battered woman syndrome" was properly offered by the accused to establish a trait of her character.  ER 404(a)(1).  The evidence of previous specific acts of aggression, particularly those directed at the decedent, were properly admitted in rebuttal under ER 405(b).  Whatever the jury believed or disbelieved, it should be remembered that self-defense was the ultimate issue.

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 ANDERSEN, C.J., and CORBETT, J., concur.