By Brian Kelly
COUPEVILLE — A victim of life’s circumstances, or a girlfriend bent on revenge?
It’ll take weeks to sort out, but jurors Friday here got their first glimpse of Linda Miley during opening arguments in her first-degree murder trial.
Miley, 58, is accused of shooting and killing her boyfriend, Jack J. Pearson, 68, five times with a .38-caliber revolver in their Camano Island home the morning of Dec. 19, 1997.
Miley also is charged with first-degree theft; police say she took $19,500 from Pearson’s safe the morning of the murder. The money was later found hidden in the bottom of a makeup kit in a bedroom closet.
It was a partial glimpse for jurors. Miley sat with her head down, her face hidden mostly by her left hand, as Island County prosecutor Greg Banks told the seven men and eight women that the case centered on betrayal and revenge.
"She got revenge because she felt betrayed," Banks said as a picture of a smiling Pearson filled a projector screen in the Coupeville courtroom. "She thought Jack Pearson had promised to love her, support her, live with her for the rest of their natural lives. Jack Pearson broke that promise," he said.
Pearson broke up with Miley, Banks said, and told her to leave.
Picking up a plastic bag holding a black revolver, Banks told the jurors what he thought happened next.
"She shot him dead in his own home," Banks said as he held the gun in front of them.
In his opening statement, the prosecutor recalled the morning of the murder, how a hysterical Miley ran to a neighbor’s home, telling of a masked man in the Pearson home.
Banks described what police found, showing the jurors a photograph of an open safe in a laundry room, papers strewn about on a white tile floor and a .38-caliber revolver laying nearby. Banks then hinted to more physical evidence that will come up later in the trial, including a kitchen stool hit by a bullet and a bloody towel.
Banks also told jurors how Miley’s story changed a month later, when she claimed she shot him in self-defense.
Banks paused to talk about the couple’s relationship, how Miley had given Pearson an "I love you" card on their last day together. Banks displayed a blow-up of the card — with the cartoon character Ziggy standing in front of a field of wildflowers — on the projector screen.
It may have been cold-hearted, Banks said, but Pearson wrote back to her on the card’s envelope, saying their relationship was over. Pearson’s handwriting flashed on the screen: "For both your and my peace of mind, we should part now!! You need a job and a change of residence. Please act now. There is no need to drag your feet on this."
However, Banks said, Miley hit Pearson on the back of the head, and when Pearson went to take care of his injury, Miley went for her gun and shot him five times.
Tom Pacher, Miley’s attorney, didn’t talk about the events the day Pearson was murdered. He started his defense by holding a yellow legal pad in front of jurors, with one word, "Self," printed in large letters.
People are formed not only by their DNA and genes, he said, but also by their life experiences.
For the first time, Miley dropped her left hand and looked up, not at the jury, but at Pacher.
"What this really comes down to in this case is Linda Miley’s self. We’re not here to say Linda had a hard childhood, you should cut her a break," Pacher said. "This isn’t about blame. This isn’t about excuse making."
Pacher said he would try to tell jurors "what made Linda who she is." She was sexually abused by her father and her grandfather, as well as an abusive stepfather who once chased her into the woods shooting a gun over her head, Pacher said.
Miley married her stepbrother, Pacher said, in an act of defiance when she was 17. After they married, he became physically and emotionally abusive. Miley was finally able to escape from her home in Mississippi and move to Washington.
"Psychologically, she was a house of cards," Pacher said, adding that Miley had become so burdened by her life’s events that she became robotlike.
"What happened that day was not within Linda’s control," he said.
Four of Pearson’s eight adult children sat in the courtroom as the trial began. Pearson was the founder of J.J. Pearson Construction, a business that concentrated on public works contracts. He had been dating Miley for approximately six years.
If Miley is found guilty of both first-degree charges, she could face 32 years in prison.
You can call Herald Writer Brian Kelly at 425-339-3422 or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.