Victims of domestic violence sometimes use guns in self-defense against their spouses or even parents. After a six-day trial and a four-hour deliberation, a jury decided Monday that this was what happened between Ashley Hunter of Foristell, Missouri and her late husband, Nicholas Hunter. The couple had been wedded for under a year when the fatal shooting transpired three years ago. Since then, Ashley had been in jail on a first-degree murder charge, with a one million-dollar bond.
While on the stand, Ashley testified that Nicholas had physically and sexually assaulted her, choking her so hard that he lifted her off the ground. He insisted she turn over the passwords to her phone and all email accounts and needed to know where she was all the time, she continued. On the night of the incident, while on the phone with a 9-1-1 operator, Ashley had said “he just kept hitting me.” Finally, she added that Nicholas had shoved a banana down her throat during the confrontation that led to his death.
At some point, the two struggled over a gun, which Nicholas dropped. At that points, Ashley picked it up and started shooting.
“I was so scared,” Ashley told the dispatcher. “I didn’t know what to do.”
The autopsy of Nicholas revealed six gunshot wounds, two in the side and four in the back.
“Ashley Hunter chose life,” said defense lawyer Scott Rosenblum. “She instinctively grabbed the gun and started shooting to protect herself.”
The trouble is that following the shooting, Ashley appeared to have no signs of injury – “not a single mark” – from the alleged attack. Additionally, Ashley admitted on the stand that she had told Nicholas’ cousin, Shannon Brady, that her husband had never laid a finger on her. For that reason among others, Ms. Brady was stunned by Monday’s verdict. Was Ashley hiding the abuse from family members?
Only 11 days before Nicholas’ death, Ashley had gushed about him all over social media. “I am blessed to be married to my best friend,” she wrote alongside their photos. “Our love grows more and more everyday. We have our own fairytale and a marriage built around God. I love this man!!”
On top of all that, Prosecutor Kelly King argued that the shooting was a case of premeditated murder. 30 minutes before the shooting, King reported, Ashley asked her husband via text, “Why did you marry me?” after which Nicholas Hunter replied, “I have no idea.”
“There was one side of my husband that was kind and loving and beautiful and generous,” Ashley responded. “He was an amazing man, with a heart that was big and beautiful … but something would switch in his mind, and the other side of him was heartless.”
“She would live for the nights when it was amazing,” Rosenblum said in Ashley’s defense – a sentiment to which many victims of intimate violence can relate. “When it was bad, it was mostly because of his moods, his crazy outbursts of rage. He hated his life.”
Rosenblum also argued that Nicholas had unpredictable moods and became violent due to his use of steroids and alcohol. At the time of the incident, Rosenblum said, investigators failed to seize the syringes which Nicholas had been using to inject the steroids.
“I always knew the truth could set you free,” Ashley said to the the St. Louis Post Dispatch following her release from jail.