The ex-wife of a slain apartment maintenance worker wept as she addressed 14 jurors at the start of the trial of his accused murderer Tuesday.
After more than six hours of jury selection, Julie VanHook was the first witness to take the stand. VanHook told jurors about her ex-husband and friend, Jeff Wilburn, 48, who was shot to death on March 11, 2009.
Fighting tears, she recounted how she waited with family members and her pastor for their children, Amanda and Max, to come home from school.
"That was probably the worst thing I've ever had to do, to tell them that their father had been shot and killed for no reason," she said.
Latarra Nicole Martin, a local rap artist known as "Doll Baby," is charged with murder and three counts of wanton endangerment in the shooting. Martin and Wilburn lived across the hall from each other at the Lakeshore Apartments at the corner of Fontaine Road and Lakeshore Drive.
The maximum sentence on the murder charge is life in prison without the possibility of parole for 20 years.
Defense attorneys argued Tuesday that murder was not an appropriate charge because Martin was mentally ill and suffering delusions on the day of the shooting.
A lesser homicide charge — first- or second-degree manslaughter or reckless homicide — would be more appropriate, attorney Russell Baldani argued.
"In a case like this, the level of homicide is determined by the defendant Latarra's mental state, and that's what this trial is going to be about," he said.
"Make no mistake, there was no genuine, rational need for her to defend herself from Jeff Wilburn," he added. "But on that day, Latarra's mind was anything but rational."
Baldani gave jurors a list of delusions Martin was apparently suffering at the time of the shooting. The list was compiled after two independent psychiatric evaluations.
Among them, he said, Martin believed rapper Li'l Wayne had been sending hit men to kill her, and she believed Wilburn had been trying to infect her with "dirty water."
Baldani added that after being arrested, Martin tried to drown herself in the toilet of her jail cell, tried to strangle herself with her panties, and was found on one occasion attempting to put feces in her mouth.
Prosecuting attorneys agreed that Martin had psychiatric problems but said that they were not enough to preclude her from being found guilty of murder.
A court-ordered evaluation of Martin at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center found that Martin suffered from social phobia, personality disorder and schizophrenic tendencies, prosecutor Dan Laren said.
However, the competency tests ultimately ruled that Martin was fit to stand trial. "In other words, she was not insane at the time she shot Jeff Wilburn," Laren said.
Though Baldani said Martin thought she was defending her family from Wilburn, Laren told the jury that signs of self-defense were not present in the case. Wilburn had not had a weapon, he was not shot at close range and he was shot in the back, Laren said.
"The commonwealth is going to ask you to hold this defendant responsible for ending Jeff Wilburn's life," Laren told the jurors.
Baldani asked the jury to see things differently.
"You will all realize that because of her mental state, she was not guilty of murder," he said.
The trial is expected to last through Thursday.